Posts Tagged ‘Resident Doctors’ Association’

Memo to Herald: Industrial Relations 101

September 10, 2008

This morning the Herald reports:

“District health boards have announced a settlement to the long-running and bitter employment dispute with junior doctors, but the doctors’ union says they are only considering an offer.
… Deborah Powell, for the doctors, said the boards had simply made an offer which had been taken back to union members.”

Powell is right. It’s the law:

Section 51 Ratification of collective agreement

(1) A union must not sign a collective agreement or a variation of it unless the agreement or variation has been ratified in accordance with the ratification procedure notified under subsection (2).

(2) At the beginning of bargaining for a collective agreement or a variation of it, a union must notify the other intended party or parties to the collective agreement of the procedure for ratification by the employees to be bound by it that must be complied with before the union may sign the collective agreement or variation of it.

It is not uncommon for the members to reject a crappy pay deal, even with the unions’ endorsement (and from memory the Herald has reported such a case in the health sector in living memory), or for unions to take back to their members settlements where they are uncertain of their members’ response (say, because the management representatives are adamant that the workers will accept).

It is not clear here whether the RDA is recommending acceptance, or whether it will simply say “this is the best offer to date, if you want more than this you’ll have to take strike action again.” From what Powell says, it sounds like the latter. In which case the DHB’s representative is being previous, and possibly mischievous.

The point that the Herald seems to be missing is that the union is, at the end of the day, governed by its members. Despite what some people think, union members are not puppets dangling on the ends of union officials’ strings. That charicature may arguably have had a modicum of truth thirty years ago, but it is time to lay it at rest.


Junior Docs’ dispute with DHBs settled

September 9, 2008

The Resident Doctors’ Association and the DHBs have settled their dispute. Radio New Zealand reports that:

“District Health Boards announced on Tuesday they have agreed on a proposed settlement with the union representing junior doctors, and it will now go to doctors for their response.The pay deal is believed to extend until the end of 2009, incorporate a 5% lump sum and an increase of at least 8.65%.”

The 15 month-old pay talks had been deadlocked for months with the junior doctors striking for 48 hours in April and May.

The terms of the proposed settlement must, of course, be ratified by the union’s members, as the RDA points out. It is therefore premature to make the announcement as the DHBs’ representative has, so I will not comment on it further.

Previous post here.

Sanity in doctors’ salary setting… please!

July 16, 2008

Recently, Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson is reported to have stated, “It is an incontrovertible fact that patient safety is jeopardized during strikes by health professionals.”*

The NZ Orthopaedic Society has now called for strikes to be replaced by compulsory arbitration. (Though various news media played it up as a “ban strikes” story, putting their usual anti-union spin on it. Hat-tip: homepaddock.)


CTU vs. striking doctors’ union

May 4, 2008

Today, CTU President Helen Kelly got a short, sharp lesson in trade unionism from Matt McCarten. He was not impressed by her criticism last week of the Resident Doctors’ Association, representing junior doctors, for the strike action in support of its pay claims.

Matt was typically blunt. He was “gobsmacked”, he said, “to see the head of the trade union movement publicly attack the junior doctors’ [strike] and their union leadership. It’s not as if [Kelly] doesn’t know any better – her parents were staunch unionists.” Ouch.

So, what was Kelly’s gripe? She argued that the RDA “never really formalised themselves into what a modern union is.” That is, they lack “wider professional advisers such as policy analysts, economists, lawyers and advocates” and focus on industrial matters instead of “social issues”. Rather than striking, the RDA should have been “[engaging] in the broad range of issues that face the health sector” with other health sector unions, the DHBs and the Ministry of Health.

It is true that the RDA is little more than a bargaining agency with a very narrow focus on pay and conditions, and that it has not participated in the multi-party problem-solving in the sector over recent years.

It is also true that the highly disruptive strike action is adding to the Government’s current woes. Kelly may have been recruited to put a helpful spin on things. It does begin to look that way.

Undoubtedly, unions in the present climate should cooperate where it is mutually beneficial to do so and there are win-win solutions to problems to be found. A recent survey revealed that this is what union members want.

But this approach doesn’t apply where there is a sharp conflict of interest. In this case, the DHBs are haemorrhaging junior doctors and the outlook is for things to get worse. That’s because of the huge pay differentials between here and other developed countries. It’s about the international labour market, stupid.

The DHBs seem to be the meat in the sandwich. It would appear that the government has been getting some poor advice from the Ministry of Health, or simply does not understand the magnitude of the problem. Either way — bureaucratic capture or arrogance — it is hard to find sympathy for the Government.

Further, the Government announced a massive $621m funding increase for the diplomatic corps only days before the first strike. Such timing! A new embassy in Stockholm or junior doctors to keep the hospitals running? Your choice, come November.

Some right-wing bloggers (here, here, and here) have been trying to promote the idea of a far-left takeover of the CTU linked to a new Alliance-type party. Ignore the blatant attempt at wedge politics from the right. Matt’s criticism of Kelly’s comments is much more readily explained as the response of a staunch unionist to a union leader lashing out at striking workers on behalf of a government that ought to know better. And I’m inclined to agree.

[Update: Bryce Edwards blogs on McCarten, “a right bastard.”]