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Govt will hope to avert more strikes

Opinion Piece

The coalition Government looks to be facing something of a winter of discontent with the possibility of three strikes, two from groups that are among its traditional supporters.

There was good news for the Government late last week when the nurses called off the first of two planned strikes after an improved offer from district health boards.

The stoppage planned for this Thursday will now not go ahead, as an online ballot with members is held over the new offer. The notice of the second strike, set for July 12, remains.

A potential nurses strike, which would be only the second in New Zealand history after one in 1989, creates an image problem for the Government as nurses are so popular with the public. It was interesting, though, to see there was only marginal support for the action by the nurses in last week’s Gisborne Herald webpoll, with 49 percent in support and 47 not.

That seems to reflect a view from a number of respondents who said striking did not achieve positive results. Another echoed a widely-held view that the DHB offer appears huge compared to any in the private sector.

The Government has been given notice of strike action by 4000 public servants working for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Inland Revenue, who have called two two-hour strikes on July 9 and 23.

Primary school principals and teachers have also been holding stop-work meetings to vote on whether to accept pay offers, or reject them and take strike action.

These groups probably all have a majority who would support the Labour-led government, especially teachers and nurses, but also see an opportunity to flex their muscles.

There is a fear that this may be the start of a series of strikes from the unions, which hold a powerful position within Labour. Unions get 40 percent of the vote in candidate selection, as much as the parliamentary party. Will they now seek a reward for their loyalty?

While this is going on, Finance Minister Grant Robertson is trying hard to reverse a fall in business confidence which is now down to 39 percent. Mid-winter is proving to be not a happy time for Labour.