The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Radiating that happy feeling

Because the radiation therapists have reached an agreement* with the DHBs, phew.

This strike (or rather series of strikes) has been very tense. On the one side you have workers who really deserve more recognition (pay and otherwise); a mainly female workforce who perform vital health tasks and are in demand here and overseas, facing great financial temptation to flee NZ. On the other side there are the DHBs, who are not exactly known for their friendly attitude towards their workers, but are elected boards running our health systems, and as such at arms length from the Government itself.

And then in the middle are the patients and their families. People who are in a bad state, going through the worst part of their lives in some cases, and already facing considerable uncertainty about their health anyway.

But all the radiation therapists have had to bargain with, ultimately, has been their labour, or rather its absence.

Like Maria Von Trapp I thought Bishop Randerson was quite wrong with his call for the radiation therapists to return to work for the good of their patients. These are people who have studied for some years, at considerable personal cost, and who do a difficult and highly skilled job, not for the money but because they care. Radiation therapy is not a profession you go into for the dosh - but it is not unreasonable for those working in it to expect fair remuneration.

Everyone, actually, is entitled to be paid at a rate they deserve. In our economic system what you deserve is not possible - instead you get what you can negotiate, and sometimes part of negotiation is taking industrial action, including striking.

I'd also note that a lot of people, including Randerson, have been calling for some kind of arbitration to break these deadlocks. Funny thing is that we already have a form of this, brought in with the 2004 amendments to the ERA (I think) and now called facilitation.** It's for exactly this kind of situation, where bargaining has been protracted and the relationship is fractured. I don't understand why the parties haven't gone there with this dispute, although it does require the consent of both sides, so I'm assuming one or tuther didn't agree. Either that or they did seek it but just continued to refer to it as "mediation" publicly.

Left Reckoner though had it right - the dispute had got to the point where the public relations battle was being won by the DHBs and time was running out for the radiation therapists.

It always strikes (hah hah) me as somewhat ironic that the very people we trust to care for us, or our loved ones, are the same people we, the public, often demand ignore the needs of their own families to serve us. It's a false dichotomy - radiation therapists are part of the public too, they have needs as well, and I know that they will have tried everything they possibly could before striking.

What stinks here is how the DHBs are getting off the hook. They have run the line, successfully, that it was the radiation therapists holding the patients to ransom. But who actually has the purse-strings here? Who was in fact holding out? The DHBs. Remember that the radiation therapists were in fact losing money whenever they went on strike, as they wouldn't be paid whenever they were taking industrial action. Some might say that not having to pay the strikers would have been saving the DHBs money, possibly even enough money to fund the extra pay claimed, but I don't have that kind of inside information. Would be interesting to do the figures though.

While this dispute sounds like it is at an end, this could be quite a big industrial year.*** And much of that will depend on what the Government decides to do with the contents of its coffers, and how hands-off Clark, Cullen et al decide to be.

* I'm assuming they are now going to have to seek member ratification, which actually means it isn't totally over yet, but I suspect that the union involved wouldn't have withdrawn the strike notices unless the agreement was within parameters members had previously indicated were ok.
** And it has been used - I can remember three cases off the top of my head where facilitation has been applied for, although only one of those actually ended up being facilitated I think.
*** In addition to what is happening in the medical sector, there is a great deal on the negotiating table this year in education, and no doubt in the broader public service. I note that the police will not be in talks though, as they settled late last year.


Craig Ranapia said...

Well, I thought Randerson should have been told to piss off for quite another reason. I don't feel overly sympathetic to either party in this dispute, and considering that several people close to me have died of cancer I feel a visceral kick at the thought of cancer patients having critical treatment delayed. But AFAIK the radiographers are legally entitled to take industrial action, and have done so in full accordance with the law.

I don't think sanctimonious moral blackmail is constructive r particularly useful, especially from the Anglican Church - which I understand some other unions have had less than ideal relations with over the years. Remove the log from thine own eye, Bish?

Span said...

I agree with your points Craig, the radiation therapists have acted within the law. There are already considerable limitations on the right to strike in NZ, particularly that workers can only strike during bargaining. Given that many collective agreements are settled for three years that doesn't give much opportunity.

Rob Davies said...

The false sciences of "Communications", "Public Relations" and "Media Management" et cetera are endemic it seems.

The private sector loves the ego-boost thousands thrown at a PR company brings and the public sector stupidly follows along behind. DHBs develop long and lasting relationships with Those Who Wear Black But Not For A Funeral, and they've succeeded in cornering the unions.

Would it be feasible to include some kind of "handicap" (unfortunate choice of word I know) in an employment contract between employer and union, recognising workers in the health sector are at a distinct disadvantage because they can't effectively strike without compromising patient safety?

In the event I've just pointed out something already patently obvious and taken for granted, I'll just get my coat.