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Sharing knowledge and best practice at employment relations conference

Over 100 human resources (HR) and employment relations (ER) practitioners came together at the recent ’20 DHBs Employment Relations Conference’ to examine the changing landscape of employment and industrial relations.

‘As significant employers in New Zealand, by their very nature District Health Boards (DHBs) manage complex employment and legal matters relating to safer staffing, pay equity and industrial claims,’ said Peter Brown, Director – Employment Relations at TAS.

‘This environment means all HR, ER and industrial relations specialists benefit from good awareness of legislative change, and keeping up to date with best practice principles and strategies.

‘The line-up of cross-discipline speakers provided a valuable opportunity for participants to strengthen both their specialised and broader knowledge, and challenge their thinking at one consolidated health sector employment relations event,’ added Peter Brown.

Minister of Health, Hon Dr David Clark opened the conference by acknowledging the bravery and impressive response by health professionals to the tragic event in Christchurch on 15 March.

This sentiment was echoed in the closing address by Michael Frampton, Chief People Officer at Canterbury and West Coast DHBs. He reflected that we can get caught up in the ER world of bargaining and industrial disputes but catastrophic events like those in Christchurch bring into stark focus the reason those working in the medical profession are there – to care, respond and save lives.

Hon Dr David Clark spoke about the drive for a higher wage, higher skilled economy and said New Zealanders’ wellbeing was a strong focus for this government, stating that ‘everyone deserves a fair day’s pay’.

He said it’s important the gap narrows between the highest and lowest paid employees – and said DHBs back the need for a capable, well-resourced and well-supported workforce. He linked this to the wider planning underway to support gender pay strategies and pay equity across the whole state sector.

The evolving nature of medical technology, how we understand its impact on future workforces and how we determine who we should be training is another opportunity the government and sector will continue to monitor and respond to.

In the context of employment relations, this will involve ensuring New Zealand stops employment inequalities from growing by lifting vulnerable workers up, along with making health sector jobs an attractive option.


Session insights

A series of workshops followed, covering an overview of pay equity, a science-based approach for fatigue risk management, practical implications of the new Fair Pay Agreement and ER Act changes, and managing media and social media at a time of high reputational risk.

Pay Equity and how it affects DHBs

Speakers on pay equity explained that pay equity has its origins in the fact that many women work in female dominated work, so whole occupations can be undervalued. 85% of the DHB workforce have had pay equity claims made on their behalf. There are four national claims processes involving nurses, midwives, clerical admin staff and allied health workers. The teams working on each claim (which include DHB representatives) are using the pay equity principles to jointly work through the process of ‘raising the claim, assessing the claim and settling the claim’.

‘The impacts are far-reaching for the health sector so the parties work through a thorough evidence-based process,’ said Peter Brown.

A number of the speakers referred to the new tripartite bodies that have now been set up to manage and overview pay equity claims in the State sector, including the Health Sector Working Committee which has representation from DHBs. 

Other key topics at the conference

Other key topics covered included the 20 DHBs Employment Relations Strategy and the Ministry of Health’s new workforce directorate and future direction, along with in-depth workshops on important areas like:

  • Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) and statutory requirements for change management and consultation
  • negotiating life preserving services (LPS) for industrial action
  • mental health in the workplace
  • how to run an effective workplace investigation and
  • TAS insights and analytics, the pay equity process in DHBs, safer staffing and care demand management (implementation and requirements of the Accord) and the development of the Employment Relations Strategy.

New Zealand has a highly skilled and dedicated health workforce. By continuing to learn about the significance of employment and industrial relations in our country, practitioners can lead the way in supporting a productive and innovative health workforce.


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