On the Picket Line

New Zealand nurses strike for increased pay, staffing

By Baskaran Appu
August 6, 2018

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — “When nurses’ rights are under attack, stand up, fight back!” several thousand nurses, other health care workers and supporters chanted as they marched through the central city here July 12. The demonstration was one of many around the country, part of a 24-hour strike by more than 29,000 members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

The health care workers and their union are demanding better pay and more staff. “For too long we’ve been underpaid and undervalued,” Auckland hospital nurse Megan Ashton told the Militant.

Staff shortfalls and resulting forced overtime are key issues. “We’re on strike not just for money,” said Ashton. “It’s for the good of people. We can’t provide the care we want to for our patients.”

Strikers began picketing outside hospitals at 7 a.m. Workers had voted to reject the latest contract proposal by the government-funded district health boards.

“I help out in the emergency department on overtime because of staff shortages, otherwise patients’ care will be compromised,” Rateesh Kumar said. “We cope with immense stress, because we like our job, but when you reach a point where you can’t handle it, people leave.”

“You have situations where there is only one nurse for 10 patients at night,” said Helen Polley, a nurse with 30 years’ experience, on the picket at Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland. “You only need one patient to deteriorate and they can’t look after the others.” Polley said she’s for legislation to enforce a ratio of five patients to one nurse.