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Nurses have voted to accept the latest pay offer from the district health boards. Work starts now to rebuild trust damaged during long, often bitter, negotiations.
After turning down four offers during the past year, nurses agreed to the fifth.
Among the first things to be dealt with is immediately improving safe staffing and the ability to realise pay equity for public-sector nurses and midwives by December 2019.
It is important this step is conducted openly, giving taxpayers the opportunity to understand what help nurses are receiving. Pay equity is a touchstone issue in New Zealand currently and addressing inequality in nursing will cost taxpayers. Despite the goodwill shown towards nurses by the general public, the agreement must be open to scrutiny.
According to district health boards, there are three pay increases of 3% in the agreement, two of which take effect immediately. There is a third increase next year, as well as two new steps at the top of the nurses and midwives scale specifically recognising the skill and experience of this group.
The DHBs say there is a substantial package to address the workforce issues raised by its negotiators, part of a wider initiative to attract, develop and retain nurses and midwives in their careers.
Retention of staff is always the best policy for employers - in both public and private sectors. Stopping nurses leaving the job in New Zealand - either to seek better pay and conditions overseas or because of the stress of working long hours with less than ideal support - will, in the long run, save DHBs money. Experience is vital in industries such as healthcare. And while experience is vital, so too is having nurses and doctors at their best when dealing with patients.
The settlement will come as something of a relief for the Government, which is facing industrial action from primary school teachers and principals, as well as Inland Revenue and other public sector departments. Secondary school teachers are also not ruling out industrial action in the future, if their wage negotiations fail.
As the Otago Daily Times has noted before, the public purse is about to be stretched as public-sector wage negotiations are concluded at higher rates than has been normal for a decade.
What is missing from the announcement from the nurses and the DHBs is whether pay equity stretches to paying high-performing nurses more because of their worth to their respective organisations.
Higher wages are set to start flowing into the private sector. Yesterday, First Union said its ''Worth It'' living wage campaign for retail workers had had its first major win. Bunnings has offered the living wage of $20.55 an hour to its staff, lifting the base rate by $2 an hour. Union members at Bunnings are due to vote on the offer in coming weeks.
Unlike the public sector, companies like Bunnings have the ability to increase pay on merit. A high-performing employee will, in all probability, receive higher remuneration than one merely going through the motions.
Higher pay, extra nurses, more teachers and other solutions to stop strikes in the public sector will not work unless the best in their jobs are rewarded. Not everyone can be the chief executive, but that should not stop those working the best being paid for their efforts.
The Government cannot, or will not, bring itself to address paying high-performing teachers, as an example, more than those serving their time. Teachers do deserve more pay and the nurses' agreement is now the benchmark. Successive governments and union bosses have failed to introduce a merit-based pay scale and that has been to the detriment of nurses, teachers and other public servants.
As the public service grows with the current Government's plans, performance pay needs to be introduced to ensure public money is not wasted on mediocrity.