What is the ongoing 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 primarily for specialty trainees
The NZRDA has been negotiating the renewal of their MECA with the DHBs since it expired on 28th February 2018. The MECA continued to be valid up until one year after it expires which meant that the NZRDA MECA ceased to exist on 28th February 2019. With still no new contract negotiated, the NZRDA membership has been taking strike action.
The SToNZ union have negotiated their own MECA with the 20 DHBs. Currently, this MECA is the only employment agreement that can be offered to new junior doctors.
The NZMSA has chosen not to debate the merits and drawbacks of each of the union’s respective 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
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 trainee interns and clinical medical students?
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 here:
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).