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SCL Wairau Nelson

Health services in Marlborough, and support services in particular, have been the subject of Ministry of Health (MoH) and management scrutiny at least since the time of the merging of the Nelson and Marlborough Area Health Boards in 1988. This was of course the same year the infamous Gibbs Report on NZ health services was released, portending the MoH led perpetual reform culture NZ public health has experienced ever since

Blenheim serves as something of a microcosm of the changes in pathology service delivery in NZ over the past 25 years. Until 2001 the hospital lab had done both the community and hospital work forever, and done so without funding from the MoH ‘fee-for service Test Price Schedule’ that privately owned providers of community tests were paid according to (derided in 2002’s Pauls Report on Pathology Services as a ‘Licence to print Money’). However the MoH sanctioned fostering of a ‘competitive culture’ in provision of laboratory services in the early 2000’s saw the Wairau Hospital lab having to compete with a newly opened Medlab South (MLS) laboratory for community requestors. When the MoH introduced bulk funding of individual DHBs for their own community provider payments in 2003 (i.e. discontinued the bill-the-MoH-per-test model) it heralded the same eventual outcome for Wairau and Nelson as it did for most other provinces of similar size – viz in 2006 the NMDHB ran a tender process to select a single supplier of hospital and community laboratory testing. MLS was successful in a reportedly hotly contested tender and at a price that the rumour-mill held was considerably less than other interested parties’ offers. So we ended up with one lab in Blenheim, at Wairau Hospital, and one lab in Nelson, also at the local Hospital.
That rumour mill holds further that the NMDHB made extra payments to MLS above the agreed tender price over the first five year term of the contract to make ends meet but signalled the dropping of this largesse in negotiations to roll-over the second five years of the deal, just as lab infrastructure projects were becoming urgent. In October 2010 MLS presented a major restructure proposal to staff at both labs as a result of this impending DHB funding restraint; the proposal’s main intent was for the transporting of community tests from both districts for processing at MLS’s Christchurch lab, with consequent downsizing of both northern labs.
These changes were a whisker away from being implemented when seismic events in Canterbury led to the postponement of the plan. Then in April 2012 Nelson and Wairau labs became the property of Healthscope owned Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) as MLS Australian owner, Sonic healthcare, fled it’s South Island operations following MLS’s failure in the tender for single community supplier in Canterbury.
NZMLWU members at Wairau and Nelson labs had become somewhat used to constant rumours of impending change, but that didn’t make it any easier when in late October this year SCL presented a new proposal for change. In this proposal routine community samples from Marlborough will be transported to Nelson laboratory for processing, resulting in the loss of 35% of staff FTE from pre-analytical and analytical departments in the Wairau lab. Hospital specimens and urgent community specimens only will remain at this lab.
Nelson laboratory services have been restructured in this change also, although without the loss of any FTE. A ‘corelab’ structure replaces the previous Haem/Biochem/BBank departmental configuration, resulting in the disestablishment of the corresponding senior positions. Members holding those posts have been redeployed to MLScientist roles. In addition a 24/7 shift system is to be implemented, replacing previous on-call service from 10PM to 08:00.
SCL as employer was ready and willing to present its proposal for change publicly in early September. The NMDHB however postponed the presentation, interestingly until after local body elections had run their course. Indeed Blenheim residents have previously been vocal in their opposition to centralising of NMDHB services to Nelson at their expense. After the proposal was made public commentators in the local press questioned why this downsizing was necessary and what a significant reduction in local lab services bode for the long term viability of all health services in their region reliant on pathology.
The changes in the proposal are set to be implemented on 15 January.

Healthscope Australia:

In September Healthscope CEO Rob Cooke declined to comment on Australian financial press rumours that the company’s American owners, TPG and The Carlyle Group, were considering sale options for the business, purchased in 2010 for $A2.7B and now valued at around $A4B on the basis of 2013 financials. The press reports nonetheless persisted and in November pundits understood that Healthscope were considering appointment of sales advisors before Christmas to explore public float and trade sale options. Reports particularly drew attention to how profitability was being improved in the “struggling pathology arm of the business”, though no specific mention was made of the NZ operation’s contribution to that effort.
In late December sources disclosed that the Healthscope board of directors was meeting on the 18th to review advice and discuss the timing of what could be one of 2014’s most anticipated ASX public

News from Parliament

After that disheartening news at least we can report on one win for employment relations rationality.
Botany MP Jamie-Lee Ross’s Employment Relations – Continuity of Labour – Amendment Bill, scorned in some quarters of the blogosphere as ‘Ross’s Scab law’, was defeated at its first reading in parliament in November. This bill sought to repeal section 97 of The Act, which limits an employer’s prerogative to employ or engage staff to do the work of striking workers, or require existing staff to perform the work of striking or locked out employees. By the slimmest of margins (60 ayes 60 noes, and “in the case of a tie the question is lost” to quote parliaments rules) the bill was consigned to the archives where it belongs.
Fronting the media post-vote a petulant Mr Ross did little beyond repeat the same tedious ideological catch phrases about how the disruption to business operations caused by industrial action damaged the employers’ profitability and affected customers downstream; the defeated bill would have “levelled the playing field and its defeat is a blow to advancing fairness in employment relations”. Jamie-Lee still fails to understand that workers undertake industrial action as an absolute last resort, particularly since theirs are the first pockets to suffer, and if their other reasonable efforts to address a situation with their employer have faltered then disruption to organisational operation is the whole point of taking industrial action!
Mr Ross’s notions of power imbalances that need addressing in legislation relate only to the few points where the actions of a collective workforce might impact the employer’s exercise of total management prerogative in employment relations. He is free to ring this office at any time for a list of amendments to The Act he might like to table if removing imbalances in the employer/employee relationship is what really drives him.
We await developments on the other Employment Relations Act Amendment Bill tabled in parliament in April. The Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee has reviewed the 13,679 submissions on The Bill and has reported back to parliament. That report is available at http://www.parliament.nz/resource/0002060295

DHB/NZBS MECA NLEG

The DHB/NZBS MECA National Laboratory Engagement Group committee held their last meeting for the year in late November and wish to thank all members and delegates for their support in progressing the group’s work streams through 2013. Copies of all finalised papers are available for you to view on the NZMLWU website under the NLEG tab. Please feel free to view whether or not you are covered by that national MECA in your workplace.
The Local Engagement Groups (LLEGs) face a busy 2014 following that last NLEG meeting. Papers for their discussion on technician bridging, incentive rewards and Systems Integration will be presented soon and the learnings from the Best Practice Rostering workshop held in November need to be incorporated locally. The new Staffing Workload Matrix Demand workstream is due to start once the Best Practice Rostering principles have been implemented. LLEGs will continue to monitor the well advanced Career progression Criteria and CPD workstreams locally.

Final word for the year

Yes we have finally moved offices: and yes after 20 years at the old site, it was admittedly a bit of a mission! NZMLWU can now be found at Building 3, 195 Main Highway, Ellerslie. All our numbers (postal, phone, fax…) and email contacts remain the same although the phone and fax is being re-routed through some miracle of telecommunications, so if a 09 520….number shows up, rather than the 09 623…. you dialled, fear not!!
The new office has more space including a room for meetings which will enable us to reduce some of costs associated with hiring venues. It also accommodates the way we work quite a bit better!

Whilst Terry has had to change his mode of getting to work from a quick walk from home around the corner, to driving across town, the majority of us have taken up the challenge to lower our carbon footprint. Three of us live within a comfortable walking distance and some are taking on the Auckland public transport system.

To explain; the new office is very close to the Ellerslie train station, so Dennis catches a bus and train from the North Shore whilst Denise and Sam catch a train up from down south. Rosie even managed to catch a (free) bus from the airport to the Manukau train station and then a train to Ellerslie the other day. All report the system is efficient and so far, no hiccups have been encountered – 4:nil for public transport.
We will watch to see if the level of enthusiasm is maintained once winter descends on us again, however in the interim it feels good to help save the world – and other Aucklanders from a few extra cars!
The NZMLWU office will be closing for the Christmas/New Year period from 20th December 2013 to 6th January 2014. If you have an urgent matter during this time there will be someone in the office 11-3 each day except for the public holidays. Please also note the office will be closed at 3.00pm 18thDecember 2013.
If you are looking for a lite read on a slightly different topic, view the NZMLWU/APEX/RDA National Secretary’s submission on Paula Bennett’s Vulnerable Children bill currently in select committee, under the News tab at our website.

Delegates Column

Hi, I’m Wayne Saunders born and bred in Northland around the middle of the last Century.

I started my laboratory career in 1969, after a part degree from Massey at the Bay of Islands Hospital in Kawakawa. After three years (the happiest of my career) I completed my training at Whangarei Base Hospital in Microbiology and Hematology. On qualifying I accepted a position at the MAF run Animal Health Laboratory in Whangarei servicing MAF’s eradication programs (brucellosis and Bovine TB) optimizing farmers herd and flock health (production profiling) while fitting in a growing demand for companion animal diagnosis and an occasional research project.

In 1988 MAF threw down their stumps and re-located to Auckland, while I and a colleague, took redundancy and started our own business (Northland Vetlab) thus starting a roller coaster ride lasting 18 years.

In 2006, with major refurbishing costs and increasing competition looming, I shut the doors on NVL and took a one year contract as Gribbles regional business manager for Northland.

Fast forward to 2008 and here I am at NPL in a position I part-timed in more than 20 years ago. If there is one thing I’ve learnt from being both employer and employee it has been the realization of the importance of unions acting as a conduit between staff and management. My experience as a rep has consolidated my belief that without a union we would be substantially worse off.

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