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DHBs Intimidating Staff, Says Union

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Fuseworks Media
DHBs Intimidating Staff, Says Union

By Matthew Backhouse of NZPA

Vulnerable health workers are being suspended without pay to intimidate them into ending their industrial action, the laboratory workers' union says.

But an employer says that claim is mischievous and that laboratories can not have people in them who are effectively not working.

Radiographers and hospital laboratory workers are locked in pay disputes with district health boards (DHBs) throughout the country, which are expected to disrupt thousands of operations.

Auckland Hospital has already cancelled all elective surgery, while other hospitals are likely to suspend surgery when radiographers strike nationwide next Tuesday.

The unions have also issued hundreds of detailed notices limiting the work their members will carry out.

The radiographers have issued 348 notices across the DHBs, while the lab workers have issued 141.

They range from refusing to answer phones to restrictions on the types of samples to be tested.

The DHBs claim the notices are intended to cause disruptions to service.

New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers Union president Stewart Smith said industrial action was not designed to affect patient services, and reductions in service should be blamed on the decision by some DHBs to suspend workers without pay.

Some staff at Canterbury DHB were being suspended for up to a week at a time, he told NZPA.

"The management team at CDHB knows these people are in financial difficulty and has suspended them. We've got a solo mum, a solo dad, single income earners ... and they have chosen to suspend them for the longest time, which is a week."

Mr Smith said the move was designed to put pressure on workers.

"I imagine it's a national plan by the DHBs to try and intimidate the workers into signing really quite a poor settlement."

Lab workers had been offered two 1 percent pay rises over the next two years, which was not enough to keep up with the rising price of food and the upcoming hike in GST, Mr Smith said.

"Our members see that as a pay cut. We're not high-earning people."

Canterbury Health Laboratories general manager Trevor English denied the DHB was suspending workers to intimidate them, saying the claim was "nothing short of mischievous".

"The suspensions have been made where, due to the strike, workers are not completing their full duties and the workload is such that we do not need those individuals," he said.

"This action has not been taken lightly but we cannot have people in our laboratories who are effectively not working, disrupting normal systems or are distracting others."

The lab workers are expected to continue their industrial action until September 16, while radiographers could continue theirs until at least September 24.

The radiographers' union, Apex, said last week it had agreed to two pay increases of 1 percent by October, but there were other issues still on the table.

Spokeswoman Robyn Slater said the planned nationwide strike would be withdrawn if the issues were resolved.

DHB spokesman Phil Cammish said Apex was out of touch with the financial realities facing all DHBs.

"This union cannot be in any doubt that affordability is an issue for DHBs. We have made it clear that DHBs are willing to work with the union on the issues that are important to them ... but that these must be managed within what DHBs can afford."

Auckland DHB spokesman Mark Fenwick said the hospital had decided to cancel elective surgery because both unions were taking action at the same.

He apologised for the cancelled operations and expected long delays at the emergency department.

Auckland radiographers will strike for three days from Friday, and again as part of the nationwide strike next week.

Waikato and Canterbury DHBs have confirmed that elective surgery would be postponed during the strike, and others are expected to follow suit.

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