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Nurses may repeat only national strike since 1989

A revised offer from health boards today could avert strike action. Photo / Getty Images

Overworked, stressed and struggling to keep up with an increasing workload, nurses say they've had enough.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has voted in favour of nationwide strikes over pay and staffing concerns and said its members have agreed to stop working on 5 July and 13 July, if necessary.

NZNO spokesperson Cee Payne said the only time nurses, midwives and healthcare care assistants mounted a national strike was nearly 30 years ago.

Later today the union will be given a revised offer from health boards, and Ms Payne said members are expected to vote on that in June.

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A no vote will mean strike action.

A spokesperson for the health boards said they are looking forward to discussing their new proposal with the union.

Auckland nurse Bridget Dwyer began in the profession eight years ago and said things were different back then - these days every shift was a challenge to keep her head above water.

"You don't train to be a nurse to do tasks, we train to give the best care we can and it never feels good to leave knowing that you have not done everything you can."

She said staffing shortages meant nurses were racing from one job to the next with no chance to properly care for patients.

"I think it's really hard in a constantly under-funded, under-staffed, under-resourced area, we don't have what we need when we need it," she said.

Gui Restall, Bridget Dwyer and Erika Smith say nurses deserve pay that reflects their skill and hard-work. Photo / Nita Blake-Persen

Ms Dwyer's colleague, Erika Smith, said the current staffing shortages were similar to speeding while driving.

"You're running behind so you speed up and you cut corners and you get home fine, so you do it again and you do it again until it's catastrophic and people get hurt."

Staff were constantly juggling patient needs but weren't able to do their jobs without better support, she said.

The women said the low pay - starting salaries are around $45,000 a year - long hours and tough conditions meant not enough new nurses were being recruited, and experienced staff were leaving.

Similarly experienced nurses working in Australia can receive around $20,000 more than their New Zealand counterparts - apparently there's an entire ward in a Melbourne hospital staffed by Kiwi nurses - with tax-free positions in the Middle East paying salaries of around $50,000.

Gui Restall also works as a nurse in Auckland and said nurses were fundamentally carers and were happy to go the extra mile - but needed to be properly compensated for their work and skills.

"When I first started nursing I never would've had to put an intravenous canular in someone but now I'm expected to do that, and take the blood-test and analyse it."

Ms Restall, Ms Smith and Ms Dwyer said they were all in support of industrial action if pay and conditions did not improve.

An independent panel last week recommended nurses pay be increased 9 percent by next August - starting with a 3 percent rise in June, another one in August and a third next year - as well as a one-off payment of $2000.

The panel also recommended a 2 percent increase in nurse staffing numbers, which is estimated to be an additional 600 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions around the country.

Nurses organisation spokeswoman Cee Payne said last week that the pay offer didn't go far enough, but would wait and see whether DHBs adopted the recommendations before deciding on industrial action.

The strikes are expected to last 24 hours, but provisions would be put in place to ensure life-preserving services continue.

This article was originally published by RNZ.