Hospital workers on strike: how are they paid, what is on offer and what do they want?


  • Hospital workers at the lowest pay rate are paid slightly more than minimum wage
  • The highest possible salary, for psychologists, is $125,873
  • Most wage brackets have not increased since November 2019

Tired essential healthcare workers walked off the job in a 24-hour strike last week and plan to start again on July 1.

Hundreds of appointments and procedures were canceled as the group of 10,000 health workers took to picket lines last Monday.

The group, which includes around 75 different professions, say they are underpaid and deserve better treatment.

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Since October 2020, when the current agreement expired, they have been negotiating with their employers – the 20 District Health Boards (DHBs).

But it didn’t go well.

So how are these workers paid and what is on offer?

Pay

There are about 40 pay scales for workers covered by the agreement, including sterilization technicians, dental assistants, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, physical therapists and medical laboratory scientists.

Each pay scale has increments of progression – between 4 and 18 – depending on qualifications and experience.

Advancement in the ladder is automatic and annual for the lower rungs, but becomes dependent on merit at some point in most cases.

Allied healthcare workers march through central Christchurch as part of a protest action against pay on May 16.

Chris Skelton / Stuff

Allied healthcare workers march through central Christchurch as part of a protest action against pay on May 16.

Sterile Supply Technicians are the lowest paid of the collective and currently start at $39,908, going up to $65,050.

For these workers, the first two stages ($39,908 and $42,151) were exceeded by the minimum wage, which was increased to $21.20 an hour, or $44,096 in wages in March.

This means that the starting salary is the third rung on the scale – $45,668.

Health and clinical support workers and Hauora Māori workers with a three-year degree or an approved cultural qualification start at $51,275, going up to $83,066.

Paramedic and public health workers, including physiotherapists, psychotherapists, social workers and dental health therapists, start at $52,813, rising to $112,171 at the highest echelon.

Allied healthcare workers protest in Blenheim as part of a 24 hour nationwide strike.  Pictured: Wairau physiotherapist Miranda Vriend.

Andy Brew / Stuff

Allied healthcare workers protest in Blenheim as part of a 24 hour nationwide strike. Pictured: Wairau physiotherapist Miranda Vriend.

The highest salary range, below the collective, is for psychologists who start at $70,925​, going up to $125,873​.

Salary scales were last adjusted in November 2019 and August 2020.

The offer

DHB says its May 13 offer, which was revealed by the health minister this week, would raise most pay scales by $5,700 and each worker would receive a lump sum payment of $2,500.

It’s unclear if the offer would apply to those earning more than $100,000.

The workers’ union, the Public Service Association (PSA), says $1,200 of the $2,500 “lump sum” was to be paid in lieu of back pay for the premium rates.

According to the offer, the salary range for sterile supply technicians would start at $51,368 – a jump of 12.4%, up to a maximum salary of $70,750 – an increase of 8.7% over the rate current maximum.

Health and clinical support workers and Hauora Māori workers with a three-year degree or approved cultural qualification would start at $56,975, an increase of 11.1%, to $88,766 , an increase of 6.8%.

Raewyn Love is a dental assistant at Christchurch Hospital and says she cannot pay for her own dental treatment.  Love is among 10,000 hospital workers who went on strike May 16 over a lengthy wage negotiation.

Peter Meecham / Stuff

Raewyn Love is a dental assistant at Christchurch Hospital and says she cannot pay for her own dental treatment. Love is among 10,000 hospital workers who went on strike May 16 over a lengthy wage negotiation.

Allied and Public Health workers would start at $58,513 – an increase of 10.7%, up to $117,871 – an increase of 5%.

Psychologists would start at $76,625 – a jump of 8%. Their top salary would rise to $131,573, an increase of 4.5%.

What do they want?

The union says that, according to its calculations, an increase of approximately $9,000 in all pay scales was necessary to account for inflation and the rising cost of living over the period since the expiration of the current agreement, and taking into account future increases.

Statistics NZ said inflation increased by 8.35% between September 2020 and March 2022.

Christchurch dental assistant Dana Hobbes during the May 16 Allied Health Workers strike.  Workers are considering further industrial action, with no sign of a pay deal.

CHRIS SKELTON / Stuff

Christchurch dental assistant Dana Hobbes during the May 16 Allied Health Workers strike. Workers are considering further industrial action, with no sign of a pay deal.

Applied to Sterile Supply Technicians, this would increase their starting salary to $54,668​ ($45,668 plus $9,000), a 19.7% increase​. Their highest salary would rise to $74,050, a 13.8% increase.

For health and clinical support workers and Hauora Māori workers with a three-year degree or approved cultural qualification, this would bring their starting salary to $51,275, up to $83,066.

Paramedic and public health workers would start at $61,813 – an increase of 17%, up to $121,171 – an increase of 8%.

Psychologists would start at $79,925, a jump of 12.6%. Their top salary would rise to $134,873, an increase of 7.1%.

*CLARIFICATION: A bullet point at the top of this story originally stated that the lowest pay rates for hospital workers were below minimum wage. The workers affected receive the minimum wage, but their collective agreement has not yet been updated to reflect this. (Modified May 22, 2022, 12:18 p.m.).

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