The PSA lodged a pay claim for dental nurses in early 1971 but was told that the public health nurses’ claim had to be settled first.
When the government imposed a wage freeze in 1973, the dental nurses were still waiting. Despite PSA protests, the Public Service Commission refused to continue their pay negotiations
In early 1974 this previously mild group of workers held stopwork meetings in several centres. With their local PSA organisers, they also went to freezing works and discussed their pay claim with the meat inspectors, whose pay claim was also stalled by the wage freeze. Annette King, then a dental nurse and later Minister of Health, remembers that ‘the meat inspectors threatened to go on strike and close the freezing works if we didn’t get a pay increase. It was a really wonderful feeling of solidarity to have these blokes behind us’.
In March 1974 hundreds of dental nurses immaculately dressed in white uniforms and red cardigans arrived in Wellington from around the country.
They met at the town hall, and then, for the first time in the history of the school dental service, marched on parliament, with Dan Long and other PSA leaders at their head. After an hour and a half of face to face negotiations, minister for state services Bob Tizard and prime minister Norman Kirk agreed that the nurses would get their long-overdue pay increase.
Bert Roth, Remedy for Present Evils: A history of the New Zealand Public Service Association from 1890, New Zealand Public Service Association, 1987