Hospital dental assistant who can’t afford to visit own dentist ready to walk off job

In her job as a hospital dental assistant, Raewyn Love sees a steady stream of desperate, anxious people , many of whom live with the agony of toothache.

The 52-year-old has been working in the high stress and specialised job for 16 years and earns $25.50 an hour – and can’t afford regular dental visits herself.

“I hardly ever go, I just do it periodically and try and grab a deal, because I can’t afford the normal cost of dental [care].”

Love is among 10,000 hospital workers from 75 different occupations who are striking for 24 hours on Monday.

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The Public Service Association (PSA) members and allied health workers will go ahead with the strike after an eleventh-hour offer – the details of which are confidential – by district health boards (DHBs) was rejected by the union, whose leaders branded it “a kick in the guts”.

An offer in February for pay increases of between $1800 and $4200 over a 27-month term was rejected by the PSA.

Love said the offer would have made no difference to her circumstances, taking inflation into account.

“It’s demoralising, it’s demeaning, it’s … embarrassing. It makes me feel like a lower class citizen … not worthy enough to be paid properly.”

She said her income made life challenging.

“I’ve had to do things like have Variety children’s charity help, or go to the City Mission for a food package – you do whatever you have to, to get by.”

PSA organiser Will Matthews said Friday’s offer did not honour recommendations made by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) during facilitation.

Allied, public health, scientific and technical staff at Southland Hospital have been picketing outside the hospital during their Friday lunch breaks and say they'll continue to do so until wage negotiations are settled. (File photo)

Robyn Edie/Stuff

Allied, public health, scientific and technical staff at Southland Hospital have been picketing outside the hospital during their Friday lunch breaks and say they’ll continue to do so until wage negotiations are settled. (File photo)

“We made it clear to the employers that if an offer was made that honoured the Employment Relations Authority report, we would recommend it to our members.

It follows more than 18 months of negotiations between the parties for a new collective agreement for allied health workers.

Hospital workers under the “allied health” multi-employer agreement are from 75 occupations, including laboratory technicians, anaesthetic technicians, oral health therapists, alcohol and drug clinicians, and sterile sciences technicians.

The ERA recommendations have been confidential between the negotiating teams, but on Friday the PSA formally requested agreement from the health boards to share them with members.

Matthews said on Friday that the union’s request had been refused by the health boards. He blamed the outcome on the Ministry of Health.

“The Ministry of Health has bungled every opportunity to bring workers a decent offer, and as a result 10,000 health workers are going on strike.

Without a guarantee of fair pay, allied health workers will again vote on sustained strike action through June and beyond the establishment of the new Health NZ.”

Hundreds of appointments have been cancelled in Canterbury ahead of the planned strike and cancer care will be affected, with similar levels of disruption likely nationwide.

A Canterbury District Health Board spokesperson said the emergency department service would be affected by the strike and waiting times would be longer.

Allied health care workers protest outside Blenheim’s Wairau Hospital on their lunch break. (File photo)

SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF/Marlborough Express

Allied health care workers protest outside Blenheim’s Wairau Hospital on their lunch break. (File photo)

About 100 outpatient and 220 community appointments run by allied health staff had been cancelled on Monday, they said.

Surgeries would be limited to urgent and life-preserving procedures only.

This week, the allied health workers started limited industrial action, working to rule and taking all entitled breaks from May 9.

Steve Grant, a sterile sciences technician, previously said he had been working for a health board for 12 years and was now paid $25.40 an hour, compared to the $27 an hour paid to shift supervisors at KFC.

He worked a second job doing security in a bar to get by, and the hourly rate for that job was more than for his job at the health board, he said.

His health board was budgeted to have 23 staff in his team. There were 13 staff in the team now, including six trainees with just a year’s experience, or less.

Health boards spokesperson Keriana Brooking, who is also chief executive of Hawke’s Bay DHB, said earlier this week the health boards were reviewing recommendations made by the Employment Relations Authority “with urgency and hope to finalise a formal offer of settlement for PSA members to consider as soon as possible”.

The health boards were approached for comment.

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