WHEN 28,000 nurses, midwives and health-care assistants voted last month to reject the second district health board (DHB) multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) offer – knowing a strike ballot would be the next step – the “no” was powerful enough to influence the course of history.
The vote was a message to stop devaluing nurses and stop failing the patients and communities who need our care. After a decade of worsening health underfunding, the vote said, “No more!”
Only once before – in 1989 – have New Zealand nurses taken nationwide industrial action. This mobilisation reshaped nursing and led to the birth of NZNO. The winds of change now blowing will also be felt beyond the DHBs.
But for every “no”, there is a “yes”. Through their vote, our DHB members were also affirming the need to restore our public health system, to recognise and fairly reward all members of the nursing team for their skilled work and to address the staffing crisis.
This “yes” belongs to everyone – people inside and outside NZNO, health-care workers and the communities we serve. All can come together to agree that health needs nursing.
Launched on March 26, #HealthNeedsNursing is the name of NZNO’s new DHB campaign. It’s an affirmation that the nursing team is the essential core of the health system. We are dedicated, caring and always there.
#HealthNeedsNursing also says that the health system itself is ailing. In a way, the rot in the walls at Middlemore Hospital is symbolic. Those in charge at Counties Manukau DHB have known for years the hospital is sick. But to remain within their undersized budget, as demanded by the previous government, they just patched holes in the walls and carried on, until the problem couldn’t be covered up any longer.
Health system sick
It’s like that for the whole DHB sector. There’s now no denying the health system is sick. It needs to be nursed back to health.
Already, our campaign is growing. Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff came to the launch, and pledged the support of the union movement.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also given a “yes”, of sorts. The morning after NZNO said “no”, she told the AM Show on TV3, “I value our health workforce. Do I want our nurses to be satisfied? Of course I do. Do the DHBs need more money? Yes.”
At the same time, though, she talked about barriers around “timing” and “budget allocations”. If our campaign can win strong public agreement that health needs nursing, then the pressure of public opinion can help overcome barriers for the Government.
At the same time, the campaign is also setting the pattern for a renewal of NZNO as an organisation which is open and responsive to members.
Members are making the big decisions through democratic votes. Campaign planning is taking place through cooperation between NZNO staff and member leaders, from local workplace delegates to the nationally elected board. Actions are designed to maximise member participation.
As the current surge draws more members into action, the transformation of NZNO is bound to continue apace.
By the time you read this, the next stage of the #HealthNeedsNursing campaign will be well under way. Rallies for good health at each DHB, from April 9-20, will also prepare us for whatever comes next.
Let’s make them big, loud and proud. •