‘Reflections on a year of advances & strife’ – Speech to NZNO Midlands/BOP/Tairāwhiti Regional Convention

Notes of a presentation to NZNO Midlands/BOP/Tairāwhiti Regional Convention today, as part of a leadership session alongside NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku and Chief Executive Memo Musa.

I thank Diane Dixon, Chair of the NZNO Midlands Regional Council, for inviting me to take part in the NZNO Midlands/BOP/Tairāwhiti Regional Convention.

Ko Ranginui kei runga, ko Papatūānuku kei raro, ko ngā tāngata kei waenganui – Tīhei mauri ora! 

Ko te kupu tuatahi ka tuku ki te Kaihanga. Koia rā te timatanga me te whakamutunga o ngā mea katoa. 

Kei te mihi anō ki ngā maunga, ngā awa me ngā wāhi tapu o tēnei rohe. 

E ngā mate, haere, haere, haere. Rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou. Tātou te hunga ora e huihui mai nei, tēnā tātou.

E te tiamana, ko Diane, me ngā mangai-ā-rohe o Te Rūnanga, ko Tracey kōrua ko Anamaria, tēnā koutou. Ngā whakawhetai ki a koutou mō tā koutou pōwhiri. E ngā kaimahi, me ngā kaiārahi nēhi e huihui nei, tēnā koutou.

Ko wai ahau?

Ko Kapukataumahaka te maunga, ko Ōwheo te awa, ko Cornwall te waka. Ko Don rāua ko Helen ōku mātua, ko Tangata Tiriti tōku iwi, ko Grant Brookes tōku ingoa.

Kua maumahara ahau ki tēnei whakataukī i tēnei ata: “He ora te whakapiri, he mate te whakatakariri”.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. 

Ranginui above, Papatūānuku below, and the people in between – behold! 

My first word, I sent to the Creator, the beginning and end of all things. I also acknowledge the mountains, rivers and sacred areas of this district. 

I greet those who have passed on, and the living gathered here. 

To the Regional Council Chair, Diane, and the Rūnanga reps, Tracey and Anamaria, thank you for your invitation. 

To the staff and all the nursing leaders gathered here (which is all of you), greetings. 

Who am I? 

I hail from Dunedin. I grew up at the foot of Mt Cargill and by the Water of Leith. My ancestors arrived in Dunedin on board the ship Cornwall in 1849. The son of Don and Helen, my name is Grant Brookes.

As we gather this morning, I recalled the whakataukī: “He ora te whakapiri, he mate te whakatakariri”. “There is strength in unity, defeat in anger and division”. 

So greetings, greetings, greetings to you all. 

It’s good to be here in Kirikiroa/Hamilton. This is the fourth Regional Convention for me so far this year. 

In the three previous conventions, I’ve been asked to address three different topics – each under the general theme for this year: “Nurses A Voice to Lead – Health For All”. 

Today, I’ve been asked to spend ten short minutes giving some personal reflections on our past year. In this annual review, my words will be words drawn from articles and speeches I’ve written before. 

From my perspective, one thing has overshadowed all else in the twelve months since we last met – and that’s the bargaining in the DHB Sector, and its aftermath. 

When I stood before you at this Regional Convention a year ago, it was at a different venue – the Eagle Ridge Conference Centre, overlooking the beautiful Tauranga Moana. Our momentous #HealthNeedsNursing rallies, held in the month of April 2018, had just come to an end. 

Some of you will remember coming together here in Hamilton, outside the Elizabeth Rothwell Building at Waikato DHB. Others, I’m sure, took to the streets last April outside Tauranga Hospital. 

There were rallies at Whakatāne Hospital, on the corner of Lake Rd & Kuirau Park in Rotorua, on the lake front in Taupō – even at Thames Hospital.  

Some of you were there on Ormond Rd, at the main entrance to Gisborne Hospital. 

For my part, I remember leafleting morning commuters at Wellington Railway Station, and demonstrating with my fellow members outside Wellington Hospital in Newtown. 

Those rallies, it turned out, were just the beginning. 

The effects of nine years of underfunding, which we highlighted and rallied against during 2017, finally compelled us to take unprecedented industrial action. 

For just the second time, nurses in New Zealand’s public health system took nationwide industrial action, alongside midwives and health care assistants covered by the DHB MECA.

For me personally, the hours I spent picketing and marching with my fellow NZNO members on 12 July 2018 will stand as the proudest moments of my nursing career. 

The MECA bargaining sparked a campaign of extraordinary drive and determination, on the part of NZNO members and staff alike. Together, we achieved momentous things. 

At the beginning, as you’ll recall, most members were being offered three pay increases of 2%, over 33 months, and a lump sum of $350 (pro rata).

When we rejected that offer, the lump sum was increased to $1,050. 

After the #HealthNeedsNursing rallies in April and the #HearOurVoices marches in May, the third offer was almost twice as big. The lump sum was bumped up to $2,000. Pay rises ranged from 9.3% to 15.9% over 26 months. 

An extra $38 million was pledged by the Government to employ 500 more nurses and $10 million allocated for additional expert nursing staff to support implementation of CCDM. 

At the end of July, after two more votes to reject, health minister David Clark put his signature to a new Accord, strengthening commitments to make sure there are enough nurses and midwives in our public hospitals to guarantee safety for staff and patients. 

The journey was not easy. We didn’t win everything needed to rebuild our public health system. But every single one of these advances was powered by the unity and determination of thousands of NZNO members, who should be enormously proud of themselves. 

Then as Summer arrived, there were signs that the long, cold winter for nursing and for the people we care for was coming to an end. 

It will take more struggle yet to clear away all the dark clouds over the DHBs – not to mention the deeper chill still lying across the rest of the sector. But the first of the extra nursing and midwifery staff were being appointed. By the end of Summer in March, just over half of the 500 were in place. Rates of new graduate employment through the ACE Nursing scheme hit record highs. 

At the same time, however, there are some unresolved problems. As we faced difficult decisions in the MECA bargaining last year, differences emerged between members, and between members and their representatives. At times there were signs of strife, of the “anger and division” which our whakataukī warns about. 

From my vantage point, I’m sorry to say, it appears that these divisions haven’t all healed yet. 

As many of you will know, we are in the middle of an independent review of last year’s DHB MECA. This is being conducted by former CTU President Ross Wilson. He has sought the views from all sides of the debates. I expect that his final draft report, which is due in June, will bring together these different perspectives, showing the truth in each and our shared path ahead. 

At the same time, the DHB MECA campaign set the pattern for a renewal of NZNO as an organisation which is united, open and responsive to members. 

Members last year made the big decisions through democratic votes. We were able to vote online for the first time. This saw the greatest member participation in any decisions in NZNO’s history. 

Campaign and LPS planning took place through cooperation between NZNO staff and member leaders, from local workplace delegates to the nationally elected board. Actions were designed to maximise member participation.

It’s democracy and participation like this that has the power to forge unity, out of division. A democratic vote can resolve many individual differences into one collective union decision. As we continue the democratic process of overcoming differences, strength will grow; “he ora te whakapiri”. 

Looking ahead, there are three major opportunities this year for members to participate in the democratic process and shape NZNO’s evolution. 

First up, 2019 is an election year for NZNO. In August, members will be able to vote for up to seven directors who will lead NZNO over the next three years. 

Secondly, under the new “one member, one vote” system, all members will have a say – for the first time – on remits. Remits are statements proposing changes to NZNO policy or to our Constitution, which outlines such things as the rights and responsibilities of members and who in NZNO has the power to do what. Voting on these proposed changes takes place in August, too. The results will be announced at the NZNO AGM in September. 

Finally, the NZNO Board is leading a review of our current five-year strategic plan, which expires next year. Consultation on a new NZNO Strategic Plan 2020-2025, which will set the organisation’s key priorities and actions for the next five years, happens in late 2019 and early 2020. Once members have given input, a final draft will be presented for delegates to vote on at next year’s NZNO AGM. 

But healthy democracy is more than simply majority rule. 

Our professionalism reminds us to work respectfully with colleagues, who may be in the minority. It reminds a majority that others have a right to hold different opinions – and to remain collaborative towards them. 

In conclusion, only once before in New Zealand – back in 1989 – have nurses taken nationwide industrial action. That mobilisation reshaped nursing and four years later, in 1993, led to the birth of NZNO. 

The winds of change blowing this last year will also be felt beyond the DHBs. 

The surge which has drawn unprecedented numbers members into action is bound to power the ongoing transformation of NZNO. 

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa. 

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