Seeing us through Covid – and seeing red

NZNO Primary Health Care members are taking strike action for the first time ever. They have been our frontline defence this year – carrying out Covid testing, attending to the social, mental health, and acute medical issues that have resulted from the pandemic, and guiding us through the constantly changing rules and information. We depend on the skilled and committed care PHC workers give communities. Can we accept that we benefit off the back of their poor pay and conditions? Despite the extra stress and responsibility of the crucial role they have played this year, their long-term claim for pay parity has been refused. We asked Primary Health Care Nurse, Mikey Brenndorfer about what’s behind the strike action.

Why are you striking?

We are striking because the Ministry of Health is refusing to fund the primary care sector properly, meaning highly skilled, qualified, and experienced nurses in primary care are being paid 10.6% less as a base rate than our colleagues working in DHB hospitals. We’re striking because the Ministry of Health has explicitly stated that the work we do is not of equal value to our hospital based colleagues, and therefore they say we aren’t worth pay parity.

What do you wish the public knew about your job?

Primary care nursing is the frontline of health care in our country, and is a hugely important part of keeping whānau and community healthy. It requires an incredibly broad range of health knowledge and skills within a very busy setting. But our work is entirely unrecognised by the current funding system, and as a result out workforce is at risk.

What’s the best part of your work day?

For me the best part of working in a Primary Health Care framework is getting alongside people and whānau to support them where they are, becoming an integral part of the local community, and removing whatever barriers might be present in their access of health and wellness.

What can people do to support you right now?

People can ask the candidates and parties this election what they are going to be doing to address the issues of pay parity in primary care, they can sign our petition –

And people can write to the Minister of Health demanding action on PHC nurses pay parity, as well as addressing the health inequities which arise from our current models of primary care and Primary Health Care.

What message do you have for the NZ government?

Pay parity for nurses is only the tip of the iceberg that is the rotten foundations that is our primary health care system. The very models of funding and service delivery need upheaval as they are currently creating growing health inequities through institutional racism in-built into this system. Without addressing this broader, systemic problems inherent in this system we are putting out population at risk of further preventable epidemics and health catastrophes.

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