Most DHB-employed midwives are not able to strike tomorrow (9 June) because their union is still waiting on a revised offer from the DHBs. However, MERAS Co-leader (Industrial) Jill Ovens, says the union supports the nurses’ industrial action as midwives share their frustrations with the DHBs’ bargaining.
MERAS members are covered by a separate MECA (Multi-Employer Collective Agreement), which expired in January, and the union has not met with the DHBs’ full bargaining team since then. Ms Ovens says this is despite MERAS suggesting a range of dates when the union negotiating team would be available.
“Our members are asking what is happening? They are at their wits end and want to know how long they have to keep working with chronically poor staffing conditions. They want to know why nothing changes for midwives when DHBs and the Ministry of Health know there is a severe problem.”
MERAS says maternity services are in crisis with midwives leaving DHBs in droves. The two Wellington maternity hospitals have about half the number of midwives needed to deliver safe care for women and their babies. Other DHBs also have significant vacancies.
“As every midwife leaves, the stress levels go up and midwives who are stretched to the limit feel they cannot do their best. Then they move on, often leaving the profession completely. It becomes a vicious circle,” says Ms Ovens. “The DHBs and Ministry of Health just don’t seem to recognise any urgency to address the problems of low pay for midwives and a desperate shortage of midwives.”
MERAS’ workplace representatives have been working with DHB management at the local level to find short-term solutions to address the crisis but Ms Ovens says the reality is there is a national midwifery shortage that has been known about for years.
In 2019, a Midwifery Accord was established with the DHBs and Ministry of Health as an outcome of the MERAS DHBs MECA negotiations. MERAS says the Accord addressed some issues, such as career pathways in midwifery, opening up opportunities for senior midwives, which will go some way to encouraging midwives to keep working in the DHBs.
But Jill Ovens says the basic problems remain.
“The Midwifery Pay Equity process has highlighted the bias and assumptions that surround midwifery as a profession. And midwives have been expected to exercise “wage restraint” in their negotiations with the DHBs. This has to stop. Midwives need to be valued by being paid a salary that recognises their high level of skill and knowledge, while keeping pace with the cost of living,” says Ms Ovens.