NZ doctors, dentists strike over inflation pay claim


Senior doctors and dentists are unapologetic about a strike which will defer surgeries for hundreds of New Zealanders, labelling it an "exciting day".

On Tuesday, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) led their first ever strike action, walking off the job between midday and 2pm.

The medical professionals are frustrated they won't receive pay rises to match inflation, currently running at six per cent.

Starship Hospital respiratory paediatrician and ASMS president Julian Vyas said it was a "point of principle" that doctors should receive pay rises each year in line with inflation.

"Yes it will affect patients and we regret that deeply and we haven't done this on a whim," he told Radio NZ.

Te Whatu Ora, the national public health agency, say doctors and dentists have been offered an extra $NZ15,000-27,000 ($A13,800-24,800) a year.

ASMS executive director Sarah Dalton said the offer only amounted to a four to five per cent pay rise once other factors were taken in.

Te Whatu Ora executive Andrew Slater said they had "put all that we can on the table".

"To invest more would involve having to make funding reprioritisations elsewhere," he said.

"About 250 planned care procedures will be deferred ... and outpatient appointments will also be impacted.

"This will be particularly frustrating for patients and our people when we've been working hard to reduce waiting lists."

Both sides agree improvements to both pay and conditions need to be made to health wages to attract and retain professionals, particularly after the taxing years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Dalton said her members were "really fed up" at not receiving the "inflation adjustment".

"I'm not going to apologise that senior doctors and dentists earn what they do. They have to train for many, many years," she told Radio NZ.

The strike comes six weeks from an election, making it an issue.

The number one issue is the cost of living, but Prime Minister Chris Hipkins declined to say whether he thought the doctors were being tone deaf.

"I acknowledge everybody wants a pay rise in the moment and the government is under a huge amount of financial pressure," he said.

"Good faith bargaining is the way to move forward."

Opposition Leader Chris Luxon responded positively on Tuesday when asked directly whether doctors should get their pay rises.

"We've said we will move money out of the centre, from the bureaucracy, and we'll pull it towards the frontline," he said.

A few thousand doctors and dentists took part in the action.

In an email to members, Ms Dalton offered coaching on how to attract media attention during their strike, when they will hold pickets outside 28 hospitals stretching from Whangarei to Invercargill.

"There will be even more media interest tomorrow. That's why, even if it feels a bit awkward, it's so important to be out on the picket line tomorrow with your colleagues. The images will speak volumes," she said.

"It's an exciting day for our union."

A previous vote on the wage increases was rejected by 83 per cent of members, with a newly negotiated offer yet to go to a ballot.

Life-preserving services were maintained at hospitals under the terms of the strike.