A short report on a strike by health workers in New Zealand/Aotearoa.
Today, 16th May 2022 over 10,000 members of the allied, public health, scientific, and technical District Health Board (DHB) workforce went on strike. These are the ‘essential’ workers across 70 occupations, who continued their jobs throughout the lockdown and do the mahi behind the scenes that rarely gain attention. They have been in negotiations with the DHBs’ for over a year-and-a-half and have had no progress.
Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) was able to join the picket line outside the hospital in Rotorua. About 20 workers in two groups stood by the side of the road, waving flags and placards. Many passing cars honked in support.
AWSM spoke to two of the participants about the action. Both workers spoke anonymously about their action and were reluctant to be recorded or filmed. When asked why, the answer was “Well, I’ve never been on any protest in my life so I feel shy and I don’t know what it’s ok to do or not do in this situation”. This modest reaction is strongly symbolic of the kind of employment landscape that exists in 2022. Here are ordinary people who normally go unseen and just turn up every day to work bloody hard. Due to the low level of militancy caused by 30+ years of union-bashing legislation from the political parties, today’s workers have rarely had the opportunity to express themselves via strike action. However, they have been pushed to this point. As one of the allied workers told AWSM “Apart from the negotiations which are partly about pay parity with nurses, this is also about the cost of living increases everyone has. It’s coming across in all sorts of ways. I went to get my dog’s nails clipped and it cost $5 more than last time, for no obvious reason. Everything is going up”.
The current strike is one of last resort, and therefore limited and defensive in nature. However, the workers on strike today are not alone within their sector. Senior doctors are unhappy with their pay negotiations, orderlies feel their pay is woefully low, with previous increases also being swallowed by the cost of living. Lab technicians are also being overwhelmed. Hopefully, this sense of shared frustration will lead to even stronger and ongoing actions as this year continues. We in AWSM wish them luck in their struggles.