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Asia Minute: New Zealand Medical Strike

Rohin Francis

There are a number of labor strikes this week in different parts of the world. Los Angeles is in the midst of a teachers’ strike, while airport workers in Germany staged a walkout yesterday. And in New Zealand, a strike of a different kind is making news.

Several thousand doctors across New Zealand walked off the job this week.

They’re what’s called “junior doctors” — finished with medical school, but not yet through their entire training — roughly the equivalent of medical residents in the United States.

The grueling pace that makes up their professional lives is the main focus of this week’s strike . . . although pay is another issue.

On the other side of the bargaining table are the District Health Boards — 20 government-run groups around the country that set health care policy and operate local hospitals.

The Health Boards say they want more flexibility when it comes to scheduling the working hours of junior doctors — as well as their pay structure. Currently, doctors can be scheduled to work ten days in a row — including two 15 hour days as part of that stretch.

A couple of years ago the limit was 12 days.

The issues in dispute involve not only fatigue, but also safety.

Radio New Zealand quoted one striking junior doctor as saying “after that much work and you’re trying to get home, you’re equivalent to a drunk driver.”

There are some 3,700 junior doctors across New Zealand, and labor groups say nearly 80-percent are taking part in the 48-hour strike.

If the situation remains unresolved, the doctors’ union is calling for a second 48-hour strike at the end of the month.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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