Many trade unionists in Aotearoa are shocked at Helen Kelly's attack on the Resident Doctor's Association, where she says that she hopes that strikers "don't give unions a bad name". Socialist Aotearoa would like to extend its solidarity to our hard working junior doctors in their fight for justice, and urges unionists everywhere to send their solidarity to the NZRDA by sending them an email here.
It is a sad day when trade unionists working in our hospitals need to strike under a so called Labour government. It is a sadder day when the supposed voice of trade unionism attacks them for striking. With behaviour like this, it is no wonder that the NZRDA does not affiliate to the Labour party controlled CTU, who would do better supporting workers in struggle than their friends in Government.
- Socialist Aotearoa
From Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 27 April 2008
CTU wades into junior doctors' union over strike
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly has questioned the Resident Doctors' Association, saying it has a narrow power base under Powell, who focused on industrial negotiations and failed to work with the rest of the health sector, which could avert strike action. Senior doctors are also angry, saying the RDA's strike action "is doing little to defend the important principle of the right to strike".
"There are alternatives to getting workplace issues resolved. [The RDA] is offered one avenue and that's through industrial negotiations," Kelly said.
"I hope it doesn't give unions a bad name. They have the right to strike, but I would like to see them engaged in the broad range of issues that face the health sector and that the other unions are currently trying to resolve."
Powell was contracted by RDA as general secretary soon after starting industrial advocacy firm Contract Negotiation Services more than two decades ago. She was national secretary for the Association of Professional and Executive Employees (Apex), representing radiation therapists, physiotherapists, dental therapists and other health professionals, and executive officer for the New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers Union.
According to district health board statistics, the three unions make up 7.3% of the DHB workforce but accounted for 89.7% of all DHB industrial action in the 18 months to February 2007.
Junior doctors held a 48-hour strike last week over pay claims, forcing hospitals to cancel surgery and treatment for 8000 patients nationwide. They plan a second 48-hour strike starting May 7, seeking a 40% pay rise over three years.
In June 2006, it staged the first national doctors' strike. The five-day strike over work conditions delayed about 17,000 patients' care.
Kelly said Powell's three unions refused to join the CTU, which had about 40 affiliated unions and a membership of 350,000 workers, covering 90% of the country's union members and included all other key health sector unions.
Powell's unions also refused to join a tripartite health forum, which held regular meetings with representatives from virtually all other health sector unions, the Ministry of Health and DHBs to work towards a better health system.
The RDA focused on industrial matters and lacked wider professional advisers, such as policy analysts, economists, lawyers and advocates.
"They never really formalised themselves into what a modern union is. I think unions generally recognise their duty to participate in social issues and health is a social issue.
"What I think it does is all their issues come onto the table in bargaining."
Kelly said the RDA had a fast turnover of membership as junior doctors progressed through training.
"It puts [Powell] in a very influential position because she's the continuity, she holds the institutional memory. It's not necessarily a well-balanced organisation."
Powell disputes their criticisms and defends the RDA's tactics.
She said the CTU would not know what the RDA did.
"They're coming from a basis of ignorance and I believe it is motivated by political reasons. The CTU is more interested in protecting friends in cabinet."
Meanwhile, the DHBs revealed 90% of the country's locum doctors are district health board staff or former staff, taking annual leave or resigning to treble their pay packets and earn up to $200,000 a year.
Locums have become increasingly common in New Zealand's hospitals and now account for about 8% of the wage bill for junior doctors and cost $23 million of an annual spend of $305m.
According to the DHBs, there were about 200-250 junior doctor vacancies in New Zealand from about 3000 positions.