Waikato Hospital staff strike for Living Wage

updated By Jessica Tyson

Around 100 staff members at Waikato Hospital have walked off the job today to demand the Living Wage.

The strike started at midnight and will run for 24 hours.  Members of Unite Union will be picketing outside the hospital from 7am today.

Lead negotiator Gerard Hehir says members have been in negotiations with the Waikato District Health Board (DHB) since November last year asking for a Living Wage, which is $20.55 per hour.

Figures from the board show 42 percent of staff are getting less than the Living Wage.

"Twenty dollars an hour is absolutely justified as a base rate for the work," says Hehir.

He says members deserve the Living Wage because of the work they do, which includes walking between 15 to 25kms per day at the hospital campus, undertaking tasks from transporting rubbish, specialised medical equipment, laundry and mail, in addition to caring for patients.

"The Hamilton City Council has embraced the Living Wage for all employees, the core public service has the Living Wage, but the lowest paid hospital workers are still denied it.”

He says the majority of hours worked do not attract any night or weekend rates and they are not automatically available to staff who want them.

"These rates are compensation for working unsociable hours and demanding hours of work," he says.

Waikato DHB "regret" action taken today  

DHB Incident Controller Melinda Ch’ng says the board regrets that the union has opted to take strike action, "but the action will have minimal impact on patients and public".

She says Waikato Hospital has ensured all essential and urgent patient-related tasks will be maintained through the 24-hour period.

In regards to the pay, she says Unite members have been offered the settlement negotiated and agreed by E Tū last year; which covers the same service users.

“For entry-level employees, this includes a 24.36 percent increase on base rates across the term of the agreement; and for those with more than three years’ service, the total increase is between 26.5 percent and 29.32 percent on base rates."

She says attendants have the opportunity to earn above their base salary, by working weekends and outside of normal business hours; when they are paid penal rates and allowances for working shifts.

"This has a flow-on effect to further increase the settlement offered."

But Hehir says, "Workers shouldn't be forced to work weekends and nights just to survive.  Those with family responsibilities are simply not able to work those hours to earn the extra income."

Ch'ng says the DHB welcomes further talks with the union to resolve the issues at hand.

Te Ao reporter Taroi Black will have more on this story tonight at 6.30pm on Māori Television.