Midwives face ‘constant uphill battle’ with DHBs – says union

“A constant and unnecessary uphill battle.” That’s how the midwives’ union (MERAS) describes dealing with District Health Boards and the Government over pay equity negotiations and getting payments already agreed, paid to midwife union members.

MERAS Co-leader (Industrial), Jill Ovens, says the union has filed a compliance order in the Employment Relations Authority after DHBs advised that they cannot pay out a $6000 pro-rated pay equity lump sum agreed more than two months ago as part of the MECA (Multi-Employer Collective Agreement) settlement.

“The DHBs have told us the payment is on hold because Treasury has not released the funds. We have asked the Minister of Health Andrew Little, the Crown negotiator, and the DHBs to find out why there is a delay in paying out this agreed amount, but no one seems to know the answer. We are at a loss to understand what is going on?” says Ms Ovens.

MERAS says the DHBs are in breach of the MECA settlement as they have not paid the agreed “down payment” on the pay equity backpay that should have been paid to union members soon after the members ratified the MECA on 17 September. MERAS says members are “ropable”.

Auckland midwife, Victoria Christian, who is a member of the MERAS pay equity negotiating team, says members are telling her they feel disrespected with the hold on the pay equity lump sum and delays in DHBs implementing their new pay rates.

“This creates animosity. Everyone is tired of having to constantly fight. Here we are at the epicentre of a pandemic, barely coping with chronic understaffing, and trying to do our best by women and their babies, while the Government seems to think it’s okay to ignore us. Is that because we are women?” she asks.

To add insult to injury, yesterday the DHBs again cancelled midwifery pay equity negotiations which were scheduled for next week.

“This is the fifth time over the last couple of months that negotiations have been cancelled at late notice. The DHBs are also in breach of the commitment the DHBs made in the MECA settlement to starting talks in September/October,” says Ovens. “They have told us that they do not have a mandate from the Government to negotiate so they have to keep cancelling. It’s very frustrating.”

The pay equity bargaining for employed midwives is in the last stage of a three-year process which started in June 2018 when DHBs accepted the midwives’ claim that their relatively low pay was related to the fact that almost all midwives are women. The union claimed on behalf of their member midwives that the way their wages have been set over the past three decades has not recognised their unique skills, knowledge and responsibility.

MERAS says Treasury officials would have been well briefed about the agreements made as part of the MECA settlement back in August when the offer was made, and MERAS members called off their industrial action. They say midwives feel let down and see the hold-ups as another example of midwives as health professionals and midwifery in general, being undervalued.