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Christchurch health workers to march on Monday

Emily Ansell
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We Are Allied Facebook banner   Will Matthews

Canterbury allied health workers will be donning their orange gear on Monday as they march in protest of their low wages.

There are around 1500 Public Service Association members in Christchurch, many of whom will be withdrawing their labour for 24 hours and taking to the streets.

The hikoi will start at Hagley Park, before participants move down Oxford Terrace and gather at the Bridge of Remembrance.

This industrial action is part of a much larger movement taking place across the country. The PSA is negotiating a new collective agreement for allied health workers, a process which began over a year ago.

But union organiser Will Matthews says DHBs are yet to make a reasonable offer. As a result, over 10,000 of its members are participating in strike action.

Christchurch Allied Health workers gather at Bridge of Remembrance on Good Friday
Christchurch Allied Health workers gather at Bridge of Remembrance on Good Friday Will Matthews

The group call themselves ‘the invisible workforce’ and represent 70 different health professions. They’re already in the midst of a two-week work-to-rule-campaign – a strategy which prohibits working overtime. Christchurch Dental Assistant Raewyn Love says her and her colleagues are sticking to this closely, even if it means stopping work half way.

“We’re strictly adhering to starting on time, finishing on time, making sure we get a 10-minute break in the morning and a 10-minute break in the afternoon…  if anything’s going over, we walk away, they [the dentists] get left to finish up.”

Love says while the disruption is not ideal, it's time the invisible workforce are recognised and paid decent wages.

Despite being a senior member of her team, and having worked in the profession for over 16 years, she’s barely earning above living wage.

“It's really made me feel kind of demeaned, and demoralised, and kind of embarrassed about how little I do actually earn for the amount of work I put in.”

Love says her team are struggling to attract and retain new staff due to these low wages.

Those who enter the force are having to work without the usual level of training. In an already high stakes environment, she says the problem is putting too much pressure on her colleagues.

It’s an issue PSA organiser Will Matthews says is causing similar issues across the board. Physiotherapists, throughout their career, earn $7000 less than those in comparable roles such as nurses. And Matthews says it’s even worse for other professions.

“If you are looking at our lowest paid members like sterile supply technicians and hauora Māori workers they are barely earning above the minimum wage.”

He states Australian health agencies are taking advantage of the situation.

“[They’re] actively recruiting amongst our members because they can offer tens of thousands of dollars more even at starting rates.”

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Will Matthews - PSA organizer Will Matthews

He says if this continues New Zealand will be at risk of a staffing crisis.

“Not only because of vacancies, but our skilled and experienced health workers are leaving for better paying jobs overseas.”

Earlier in the year, the Employment Relations Authority stopped planned industrial action by the PSA citing rising covid cases. Last week they released a list of recommendations for pay talks going forward. The PSA says it will cease strikes if the DHBs make an offer based on those recommendations.

Chief Executive of Hawkes Bay DHB Keriana Brooking says they are reviewing the recommendations and hope to finalise a formal offer of settlement to the union as soon as possible.

However, both Love and Matthews say they will believe it when they see it.

The strikes will continue through till May 23rd with life preserving services remaining.