MECA 'good for nursing and for DHB sector': the woman who led the MECA negotiations for the district health boards reflects on the implications of the deal, and on the negotiations' highs and lows.
Advocate for the District Health Board New Zealand (DHBNZ) team during the five-months-long negotiations, Street is delighted the deal has been ratified. "It is very good for nursing and very good for the DHB sector."
Street is convinced there would have been no MECA under any other Government. "This Government has a commitment to advance towards pay equity. The nurses' deal is not a pay equity case as such, but a recognition by the Government as a whole that it was time to lift nurses' salaries."
She also recognises that the deal is a tribute to NZNO's Fair Pay Campaign.
"I'm proud and privileged to be part of this historic settlement. The deal will be one of those moments--people will always remember the time when nurses' pay got to where it ought to be."
"A wonderful coincidence of timing" meant Street was in the right place at the right time--"when the Government had the economic circumstances and the will to put money across the table."
There would be parts of the deal that some people would be less than satisfied with "but on balance it is a huge win for NZNO and for nursing".
Nurses' salaries after five years will be $54,000, which is a respectable salary for that occupation and for comparable occupations, she says. Maintaining that comparability will be the subject of the next round of negotiations, according to Street.
The ratification concludes a process which began when the chief executive group of DHBNZ appointed Street as the advocate for the negotiations. In 2003 a nursing working group was established to took at the pros and cons of a national MECA and to do some groundwork towards that goat. A significant decision of that group was to include senior nurses in any potential MECA. "That decision was made before we ever started negotiations with NZNO. We got that issue out of the way first, so we didn't stumble at the first hurdle," Street said. It was a strategic decision by the chief executives, based on a range of factors: enhancing workforce goals; the future of the nursing workforce over the next five to seven years; the kind of nursing positions the DHB sector anticipated needing in the medium term; and the work and practice of hearth care assistants, enrolled nurses, registered nurses, senior nurses and nurse practitioners. "All these things were considered in coming to the decision to include senior nurses in the MECA coverage," Street said.
Acknowledging the negotiations were difficult and painstaking at times, Street said the NZNO team was "fabulous" and the advocates "very good indeed. They were assiduous about representing their members' aspirations".
The eight-strong DH BNZ team was small in comparison to the NZNO team and Street said NZNO advocates had a more difficult job than she did in welding the team together. "It was an excellent team to deal with. We appreciated theft professionalism and frankness. We knew that if the advocates said something, it would stick and they also alerted us to 'no go' areas, areas where there was no point in us wasting our breath and we took that into account in our deliberations."
The fact that everybody involved wanted a MECA and that there was a good revel of trust meant the negotiations were smoother than some in the past, when trust had been a rear issue, she said.
While admitting she would have liked the MECA settled earlier, Street said the range of issues that had to be canvassed in every region, the substantial movement in salaries and the rationalisation of allowances "that had arisen historically" took a good deal of time and was, at times, frustrating.
Refusal of first pay offer
"Everybody was keen to have a real MECA--consistent terms and conditions across the country--not a lot of grandparented clauses." For Street personally, one of the most difficult times in the negotiations was when the NZNO team refused the original pay offer. "We thought we had a very good offer that was close to NZNO's claim. The $53,000 top step was the most we could offer on the money available to us. We had very clear instructions, ie 'This is the amount of money available, get a deal inside it: We massaged the salary offer to ensure that most NZNO members got most of what they claimed. When we delivered the offer and worked the various scenarios through with the NZNO team, it was pretty shattering to get a steely took across the table when we thought they would be happy. I didn't hand out the party hooters at that point.
"Going back to the Government and admitting we couldn't get the deal in the money available was very difficult. I felt a failure but there was no compromising on NZNO's part. That's the way it goes."
Street paid tribute to the DHBNZ team which, she said, had good mix of employment relations, organisational management and nursing leadership experience.
The MECA expires on December 31 next year and DHBNZ will begin preparations for those negotiations towards the end of this year. "The expiry date will come round quicker than we think."
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|Title Annotation:||News Focus; multi-employer corrective agreement, District Health Board|
|Publication:||Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2005|
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