Laboratory workers across the country are planning to strike, as New Zealand steps up testing in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
But the Ministry of Health insists it won’t impact on tests for the virus, and laboratories will still be able to perform over 1000 tests a day, if required.
“[Friday’s] strike, if it goes ahead, will not affect our lab testing for COVID-19,” said the director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Employees taking part in the strike are scaling down the tasks they perform until May 5. An additional full-withdrawal strike is planned for Friday.
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“The strike action ranges from bans on particular activities – answering phones, taking blood, participating in training – to refusing to process particular samples and undertake certain tests,” a previous statement said.
“I don’t think now is the time to be … trying to use this as leverage, and I think that’s pretty disappointing.”
But APEX union senior advocate David Munro said the timing of the strike, though “unfortunate”, isn’t deliberate.
“The timing is not deliberate at all, planning for this strike began before Christmas, before we even knew about COVID-19.
“[It] can’t be any surprise to … the ministry that this is happening.”
He blamed the poor timing on the DHBs “deliberate dragging of the heels”.
Munro confirmed the planned strike action will not have any affect on COVID-19 testing.
“[There will be] no refusal to do COVID-19 tests.
“The specialist scientists that are there in those labs that need to do it will remain there and our strike action is designed in such a way to not have an impact on that.”
Around 500 workers at all DHB labs in the North and South Island who are members of APEX union are participating, it is understood. Two of the country’s three labs testing for coronavirus are taking part in the strike action but will continue processing samples.
Bloomfield said coronavirus tests are important and will be a priority.
Union members are taking part in the strike action to demand better remuneration. Munro says medical lab technicians and scientists are being paid $10,000 to $15,000 less than nurses.
“The solution is simple,” Munro said in a statement, “the employers need to act on their own rhetoric and make an offer that ensures that colleagues doing identical work with identical qualifications and experience are paid the same”.