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May 21, 2007

Suspension of Laboratory Workers

To ensure the safety of patients the West Coast District Health Board has today suspended laboratory workers who have withdrawn their services from key areas of diagnostic testing.

The New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers Union notified the West Coast DHB that from May 21 its members working in Greymouth will not provide patients services such as collecting specimens or taking bloods, they would also not issue blood or blood products or answer telephones.

Faced with this partial withdrawal of service from approximately 50 percent of its laboratory workforce the West Coast District Health Board felt it was in the best interest of patients and clinicians for those union members to be suspended.

"To ensure the safety of our patients its important that clinical staff be able to rely on laboratory staff to fulfil their normal duties effectively and fully," Chief Executive Kevin Hague said.

Mr Hague said it was up to clinicians to decide on a testing regime for patients and to determine when this testing would take place -not unions.

"Clinical staff need to be confident that when they order tests for their patients or require blood products that this will happen. The union action would compromise this.

Mr Hague said the hospital laboratory performed a vital service and believes having some workers providing a service at an unacceptable level had the potential to have disastrous consequences.

"Therefore the DHB believes it had no choice but to suspend striking laboratory workers for the duration of the strike."

"Union members are on strike and still expect to be paid while not fulfilling the duties they are employed for - this is unacceptable."

He said taking workers, who were effectively not providing an acceptable standard of service, out of the equation meant the DHB was able to plan and continue to deliver a high standard of care with certainty that those providing it will do what is requested by the doctors..

"You simply can't plan for and provide a laboratory service when you have an outside organisation- in this case a union - dictating what diagnostics services will be available and when.

He said despite the suspensions the laboratory would remain open although it would operate at a reduced level.

"All emergency testing will be carried out without delay, however people waiting for routine test results may experience a slight delay."

 

Background:

What is a suspension?

A suspension is quite different from a lock out - while both result in the employer requiring workers to leave the workplace and receive no pay, they are fundamentally different in nature.

A suspension can only occur when an employee is on strike initiated by a union and can only cover the period of the strike.  Suspension is generally only used where the strike involves a partial withdrawal of labour by the union members. 

The employer can judge that the partial withdrawal of labour raises health and/or safety issues or that the disruption to non-striking workers is such that it is best not to have the striking workers in the workplace.  A suspension is lifted immediately the strike notice that it covers is withdrawn by the union, or the employee undertakes to work as normal.

What is a lock out?

A lock out is an employer initiative taken to remove non-striking workers from the work place and is generally considered the employer equivalent of strike action. It can be used as a way of compelling workers to accept terms offered in negotiations - in the same way as workers strike in support of their claims.

A lock out can also be used as a way of providing certainty for organisations when strike action raises health, safety or serious

 

On May 4, 2007 the West Coast District Health Board received strike notification from the New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers Union (NZMLWU). This was the third round of industrial action by this union in less than 8 months.

The previous two rounds have been complete withdrawal of service through strike action that has lasted for 11 days in two separate periods.

The current notification is for a partial withdrawal of service beginning May 21, 2007 at 8am and ending at 8am Monday May 28.

This involves all work associated with patients services such as phlebotomy, collection of specimens, Mantoux testing and skin testing from 8am May 21 to Friday May 25 at 5pm.

It further stated union members would withdraw all labour associated with the issuing of blood or blood products between 8am and 5pm from May 21 to May 25.

Further union members would refrain from answering telephones from 8am Monday May 21 to 8am Monday May 28.

The suspensions have been made under section 87 of the Employment Relations Act. This is the only method available to employers to ensure that where a strike does not involve the full withdrawal of labour and the striking employees are not required by the employer for the period of the strike that they do not get paid and that they leave the employer's premises.

For more information please contact

Kevin Hague
Chief Executive
Work 03 768 2893

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