Compulsory arbitration for health workers?

The NZ Herald editorial:

A call by district health boards for the Government to review the right of health workers to strike is, therefore, most timely. They made it clear yesterday that they have had enough of patient safety being compromised.

The chief medical officers of all 20 boards have written to the Health Minister, Tony Ryall, urging him to make disputes over pay or conditions in the health system subject to compulsory arbitration, as is the case with other public safety workforces, such as the police.

The freedom to withdraw labour should never be eliminated lightly. But, whatever the rights and wrongs of the present strike, there is good reason to believe the time has come for compulsory independent arbitration in the sector.

Hospitals provide an essential service. They are the only port of call for the ill. There is no alternative supplier of their services. As it is, sick people must wait impotently as disputes wind their way to a conclusion.

What I find interesting with the current compulsory arbitration for the Police is that the arbitrator can  not choose a compromise. He or she must choose the employer offering or choose the union request.

So what does this do? It encourages reasonableness. The more extravagant or unfair your demands/offer and the less chance there is of it being selected. So you often get the two parties quite close to each other.

During the junior doctors’ strike of 2008, the Medical Council suggested the time to move to compulsory arbitration had come. Unsurprisingly, a Labour Government was unmoved.

Now, the push by district health boards has substantially raised the ante. So, too, has health workers’ increasing penchant for industrial action. If the Government acts, as it should, there will surely be no complaints from the public.

I think there is a case for considering hospitals an essential service akin to the Police.

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