Three Auckland DHBs facing strike action have accused the Public Service Association (PSA) of being "mischievous" in its claim they are being overstretched and face burnout if plans to extend weekend services without more staff go ahead.
More than 400 staff at Auckland and Greenlane Hospitals walked off the job for two hours this morning, and another strike is planned at Middlemore Hospital on Thursday morning.
Many of those protesters were social workers, physiotherapists, scientists and technicians. All of them said they had no choice but to strike.
"We're moving to 24-hour care and we want more staff and better pay. We continually have more work to do as the demands on the health system are increasing all the time but I don't think we always see that reflected in staff numbers," said social worker Jake Jamison.
"We work long hours, weekends and night shifts and they are trying to cut back on our benefits," said anaesthetic technician Alex Fatu.
National DHBs employment relations group chair Julie Patterson said she was disappointed that the union was claiming the strikes were about workloads.
"To claim this is mischievous, when the strike relates directly to pay rates for staff who are not yet employed by the DHB," she said.
"The three DHBs have offered to continue with current pay conditions for existing staff.
"However, to provide flexible services for patients and the ability to increase weekend staffing levels in the future, the DHBs want to negotiate different pay rates for new staff in line with the industry standard."
Mrs Patterson said the PSA had never raised workloads as an issue before and the union was a partner in a project which looked at how DHBs could maximise staffing requirements for a safe working environment.
"The PSA has not raised issues within the project and nor have they raised issues about workload in the bargaining process.
"In fact, the PSA presented a membership survey that shows that the current workload is mostly manageable.
"That said, the DHBs do acknowledge that this last winter has been challenging for staff due to high levels of patient need. "
Waitemata, Auckland and Counties-Manukau DHBs said patients increasingly needed weekend appointments. The PSA wanted to ensure its members kept their current weekend pay rates.
The DHBs have said that would be too costly and is out of sync with other hospitals.
"The Auckland DHBs pay around $4m on the 'double time' weekend premium each year to approximately 1000 of their 3000 allied staff. If the current double time for allied staff were to continue to all staff, then DHBs would face a different cost profile when thinking about how and where to extend services," DHB Shared Services said in a statement.
PSA organiser Simon Oosterman said the comments were simply untrue.
"Just last month, the DHB acknowledged there was a staffing issue at the North Shore Hospital's Marinoto Child and Youth Mental Health Services. A survey of clerical staff at Waitemata DHB also showed they were overworked," he said.
Staff were very upset by the DHBs failure to even acknowledge how stretched their working conditions were, he said.
Another protest was planned at Middlemore Hospital tomorrow.
The PSA said it wanted this to be acknowledged by the DHBs before talks could resume.
The DHBs said they would only resume talks once strike action was withdrawn.