Stronger together: reflections on the DHB MECA campaign

Next week, NZNO members in DHBs around the country will start voting on a new offer from their employers. Details of the offer are available here.

It comes after members voted in May to reject the first offer, sending the NZNO and DHB negotiating teams to mediation.

It is now exactly a year since I was nominated for the NZNO negotiating team by my fellow delegates at Capital & Coast DHB. So it’s a good time to reflect on the journey to this point – both for myself, and for the 26,000 other NZNO members I have been representing.

It was a great honour, last October, when NZNO members in DHBs around the country elected me to be part of the MECA negotiating team.

And it has been an absolute privilege to work with the thousands of passionate, committed NZNO members who have propelled the negotiations to where we are today.

CCDHB visit
We’re Stronger Together

I have met many of you over the last three months, during my visits to Waitematā, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Lakes, MidCentral, Wairarapa, Hutt Valley and Canterbury District Health Boards. I only wish my annual leave balance (and bank balance) had allowed me to visit the other ten DHBs, as well!

Some of you I saw at the ratification meetings in May. There, thousands of members turned out to vote overwhelmingly against the DHB offer – the highest level of participation in at least a decade.

Others I met in the workplace, where you collectively supported the “Go Purple” Days of Action, and where around 5,000 of you signed letters telling your DHB Chief Executive: “We are writing to let you know that we are standing strong for health.”

These actions we took together showed employers and government that we were growing stronger.

Now the negotiating team is recommending that members accept the new offer.

At the start of bargaining, I was asked to draft a set of Values and Principles to guide the team. Amongst other things, we agreed we would make decisions by consensus where possible, by majority where necessary, and that we’d accept collective responsibility for decisions reached.

But members who are deciding who to vote for in the NZNO elections also have a right to know what I think, personally.

Do I believe the offer recognises what nurses and healthcare workers are really worth? No, I do not. We need to keep our eyes on that prize.

If we focus only on how far we have to go before we reach that goal, however, we will probably be disappointed by any offer made this year. So we also need to look at how far we have come.

Up until February, the State Services Commission was insisting that pay increases must be no more than 0.7 percent. That unreasonable spending cap has been pushed aside. By working together, we have come a long way.

It is not my place, or my wish, to tell members to settle for too little.

But the new offer will deliver real pay rises, above inflation, and other improvements which will allow quality care. It can serve as a platform, to relaunch the journey towards our ultimate goal.

Despite the fact that member participation this year has been the highest in a decade, reaching that goal will take much greater participation, a change in economic and political circumstances, or both.

The negotiating team’s stated reasons for recommending acceptance now include the fact that “there is an improved wage offer and a reduced term”, and “progress has been made on addressing a number of outstanding matters”.

But there are other reasons, too. For me, personally, it is because our achievement is the result of your collective action as members, and this deserves to be recognised and valued.

Our MECA campaign also had great support from outside NZNO’s DHB Sector. Members in the Primary Health Care Sector showed their support.

Nurses at the Porirua Union & Community Health Service supporting DHB Sector members.
Nurses at the Porirua Union & Community Health Service supporting DHB Sector members.

So did other unions. “We support the decision by NZNO members to reject the offer made to them by the DHBs”, said PSA national organiser Ashok Shankar.

Even the President of the PPTA secondary teachers union, Angela Roberts, joined in our “Go Purple” Day of Action.

PPTA President Angela Roberts %22Teachers stand with nurses%22
PPTA President Angela Roberts

Where was our President?

The role of our elected leader includes being the public face of the organisation. The President’s invisibility throughout the negotiations is even more surprising, given the policy remit passed at the last AGM, that NZNO commits to supporting a new “Pay Jolt” in the upcoming DHB MECA negotiations.

“As an industrial matter, it is up to the members covered by that agreement to determine their own issues and set their own priorities”, explained the rationale attached to the remit.

“But there are also reasons why, as a matter of policy, this bargaining round will warrant a ‘whole of organisation’ commitment from NZNO.”

If you vote to elect me as your next President, I pledge to dispel the cone of silence which has engulfed our leadership. I will make your issues visible – including the issues you’ve taken action to address through the DHB MECA campaign.

And I pledge to support members whenever you join together for health. As the DHB MECA campaign has shown once again, when we take collective action we can succeed. Because together, we’re stronger.

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