There is a growing dissatisfaction and disgruntlement that is being shouted from the mouths of our nurses - silently.
You see, most nurses are bound on what they can say by their restrictions on talking to the media about their workplaces. There are policies surrounding media interaction, which stifle our nurses.
They are feeling undervalued, underpaid, unsafe, and unsupported. A nurse will shout black and blue to advocate for their patients, and ensure they get the care they require, but they are struggling to be heard while trying to advocate for themselves.
The unions are also unable to publicise what is happening in the on-going negotiations.
The latest offer on the table for nurses was a two per cent pay increase amongst DHBs in New Zealand. Now, two per cent sounds about right with inflation right? Sure it does - but not when you take into account that for the previous nine years, they’ve been averaging 1.5 per cent increases per year, a sum less than inflation, less than the private sector, and less than the minimum wage. While the minimum wage has been going up by 3.75 per cent per year over that same time period, and is about to have an increase of 30 per cent over the next two years, nurses are being told that there just simply isn’t the money.
Take into account that Labour has just promised an eight billion dollar increase in funding towards the health sector, and nurses are left wondering where that money is supposed to be going?
Let me stop and tell you what a nurse's wage is. Currently a starting nurse's salary is $49,449 gross. There is a five-year sliding scale of which your salary increases and then it stops unless you are appointed into a managerial role. From this $538 in union fees is taken, which covers the nurse's indemnity insurance. If you decide to not join a union, the DHB takes it from your salary instead. This is after a minimum of a three-year bachelor degree, and a minimum of 1100 unpaid clinical hours. Most students do around 1500 hours.
Compare this to a police officer’s starting wage of $56,106, with a total remuneration package of $62,791. They complete 16 weeks of paid training, and they are then on the job getting paid more than nurses. Now, I am in no way undermining police’s salaries – they do an extraordinary job, and come to nurses' rescue regularly but we are talking about pay parity here, and nurses are struggling to get the point across, that nurses are underpaid.
Now compare teachers’ wages. There’s been a bit of media coverage of teachers requesting a 16 per cent pay increase. Their starting salary is quite similar to nurses - $51,000 as a starting secondary teacher.
The differences, however, occur after this – they are recognised for their further study and remunerated accordingly (nurses generally aren’t), and they have a seven-year sliding scale, which finishes at a total of $12000 extra per annum over a nurses capped five years.
Now I’m comparing teachers and police officers, because there are few other jobs out there, where salaries are determined by the government, and not on your own merit. You can’t go up to your boss, and say ‘I saved three lives today, would you consider a pay rise?’
An accountant recently qualified might start on a similar salary, but by the time they are chartered, they are pushing double this. A building apprentice may get between $15-20 per hour while training, but will then also jump to a wage that is $2-3 hour higher than a starting nurse salary.
So lets talk about what impact this is having on our staffing situation currently. A grounds-up Facebook page ‘New Zealand please hear our voice‘ has had nurse after nurse sharing just what is happening.
Nurses are crying out for help: Abuse from patients, lack of support from management, being short-staffed shift after shift, unskilled clinical mix of staff, resignations, emotional and mental stress, and this constant voice from employers that nurses are hearing as ‘We don’t care, you’re not worth more, we can’t do anything, suck it up’. This feels a bit tough to nurses, when the CEOs of these DHBs are all being paid over half a million a year.
Most people would say ‘nurses are lovely and caring people’, ‘they give out some medications’, and they ‘do your dressings’. But do they really know what responsibilities a nurse holds?
Nurses are the lifeblood of New Zealand’s health system. They run the wards and the emergency departments.
They do your primary assessments, your secondary assessments, the assessments that recognise you are deteriorating and require help.
They are managing your airway to remove your tube when you are recovering from anaesthetic post surgery, and dodging swinging fists as your fight your way back into reality.
They are the ones that advocate and push for you to be assessed again and again, when they notice you going downhill.
They stand at the end of your bed, check your colour, consciousness, breathing, and mental acuity in three seconds and can respond immediately with the correct interventions.
They check to make sure no instruments are left in your body after surgery.
They are the ones who start that life-giving resuscitation when they find you collapsed, and bring you back.
They are the ones who shoulder your emotional heartbreak as they first tell you that there is not long, then hold your hand while your wife passes away in front of you and your children.
They are the ones who have to deal with all sorts of bodily fluids, to give you grace and dignity in front of others, and smile while they do it.
They know every medication they give you, what it is for, what dosage it should be, and administer it with care and thought, having already checked and corrected any anomalies.
They are educating you every time they talk, helping encourage you to take back hold of your health, and give you your independence back.
Nurses are the strongest people I know.
And yet they are breaking. They are leaving. They are crossing the ditch to work in Australia where the pay is 35 per cent higher, not including the fringe benefits that Australian nurses are eligible for, the recognition they receive, and the safer work environments they are working in.
They are resigning. They are not coming back. I should know, I am one of them.
Nursing shortages are becoming increasingly prevalent. Nurses are looking after six patients (ward environment), instead of their recommended four. They are not having the time to adequately care for you, and feel increasingly stressed, as a fatal mistake means that they are dragged into the coroner’s court to account for their actions.
Clinical nursing managers are trying to pick up the pieces, being a phone call away to their staff, working over 12 hours and being paid for eight, taking work home, trying to support staff, while accounting for all the expenditure that their ward has used… and they too are burning out.
With the recent health care assistant wages being negotiated to increase, nurses with three years worth of study, are shouting with joy, but struggling to comprehend why they will only be worth $1-2 more per hour, with a mountain load more responsibility.
With voting on the DHB's offer having recently drawn to a close, and the two percent pay rise rejected, the most likely next option is to strike – an option that hasn't been exercised nationally in around 30 years. Will the politicians, employers, and everyday New Zealanders hear nurse's voices then? I for one, hope so.
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