What is the current strike action about?
In basic terms, one of the tasks of a doctor’s union is to negotiate a MECA (Multi-Employer Collective Agreement), a type of employment contract, that their members will sign when they start work with any DHB in New Zealand. This type of contract ensures that all new employees, regardless of location, are employed under the same terms and conditions, and historically these terms have been negotiated between junior doctors’ unions and the 20 DHBs who work together in these negotiations as one collective.
Currently there are two post-graduate doctors’ unions:
- NZRDA (New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association)
- Currently and historically has represented the majority of junior doctors
- SToNZ (Speciality Trainees of New Zealand)
- A new union recently formed by a group of specialty trainees
The NZRDA has been negotiating the renewal of their MECA with the DHBs since it expired on 28th February 2018. A MECA continues to be valid up until one year after it expires which means that the current NZRDA MECA will cease to exist on 28th February 2019. With this date getting closer and with no agreement on a revised MECA, the NZRDA members have elected to take strike action.
To complicate the issue, the SToNZ union has negotiated their own MECA with the 20 DHBs. If the NZRDA does not secure a MECA through negotiation before the 28th February 2019, it is likely that new junior doctors will be offered an individual employment agreement (IEA) which may resemble the prevailing SToNZ MECA. This situation has not occurred before so there is some uncertainty around this.
The NZMSA has chosen not to debate the merits and drawbacks of each of these MECAs. The primary role of NZMSA is to represent and advocate for current medical students and therefore our executive has not taken a position on the issue. However, you will be able to find their respective arguments, opinions, and news on the negotiation and employment process at the following links:
- NZRDA MECA bargaining – https://www.nzrda.org.nz/meca-bargaining-2018/
- DHBs (Central TAS) bargaining – https://bit.ly/2TdyVcV
- SToNZ website – www.stonz.co.nz
The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is the union for senior doctors and they have been providing detailed summaries of the negotiations from a senior doctors perspective for their members. If you’re interested in this further background, you can read issues 2018-16, 2018-17, and 2019-1 of their member communications (https://bit.ly/2sOZk5B).
Can I, as a trainee intern, join the strike?
NZMSA’s position on this is clear — medical students are not employees of any DHB and therefore are not party to the NZRDA MECA or any related strike action. As medical students, we must follow the guidance of our universities who may require attendance during strikes to ensure adequate clinical time is maintained, unless otherwise advised.
We understand that this might sit uncomfortably for some final year students who may feel invested in the outcome of the MECA negotiations as they look toward a PGY1 job within the next year. These students may also feel added pressure to contribute above their usual workload as many are seeking references from consultants at this time of year.
We hope, and will continue to advocate, that universities reiterate to supervising consultants that taking on extra duties during the strike should be a voluntary decision by students and there is no expectation to work at a higher level than normal. Equally, students who maintain their normal levels of contribution to their clinical teams should not feel as though they are undermining the strike.
You do have the opportunity to register to the NZRDA for free as a trainee intern (www.nzrda.org.nz/trainee-intern/). Joining the NZRDA as a trainee intern does not give voting rights for NZRDA ballots and membership does not alter the expectations of attendance during strike periods.
Finally, in a particularly stressful and emotional process for our RMO colleagues, there will be a wide range of views on the negotiations and it is important for all of us to respect the right of individuals to form their own opinions. We would hope that medical students are not unduly pressured into forming an opinion either way or asked to take a position on the strike.
If at any time you feel pressured to support or undermine the strike process, or have been asked to take on extra duties that you are not comfortable with, then the advice of the medical schools is to firstly get in touch with the convenor of your attachment or the relevant Head of Department for your placement. Alternatively, you may get in contact with the Head of the Medical Programme (Auckland) or your local clinical school Dean (Otago). If you’d like some additional support from NZMSA or would like to discuss anything related to the ongoing negotiations, you can get in touch with your NZMSA workforce officer Darren Ritchie (firstname.lastname@example.org) or our president Fraser Jeffery (email@example.com). Additionally, if you feel that your ACE application process is in anyway being influenced by these matters, we strongly recommend that you get in contact with us.
What are the expectations of a trainee intern?
NZMSA and your faculty are currently working on a framework that details the specific expectations of a trainee intern student. This has arisen due to concerns from some students that they are being asked by clinical staff, both during the strike process and the normal academic year, to work at a level that is either above or below what they are comfortable with. This document is a work-in-process and should be completed soon, but will assist us in advocating on your behalf to universities and clinical staff.
In the interim, during the strike process, it is important to not do anything outside your comfort zone or beyond your skill level. As expected, some students will take on some extra duties during the strike period and many will do this voluntarily to benefit their learning. Conversely, some students may find that they have less opportunity for learning in this period.
The University of Auckland and Otago have released memos to medical students to outline their expectations. These can be found at:
I am not a trainee intern, how will the strike process affect me?
Due to changes in staffing and clinical workloads, it is highly possible that there will be changes to the timetables of clinical students during the strike process. The universities have made it clear that your Clinical Run Convenor or Head of Department will notify you if there are any changes to attendance. In the absence of any communication from the university, you should continue to attend as normal.
If you have any issues with this process, in the first instance, you should contact faculty directly. Alternatively, if you have any queries or concerns, we advise you to contact your NZMSA workforce officer, Darren Ritchie (firstname.lastname@example.org).