‘The mana of our people’ – Speech to NZNO Top of the South Regional Convention

Notes of a presentation to NZNO Top of the South Regional Convention on 16 May, as part of a leadership session alongside NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku, Manager, Nursing & Professional Services Mairi Lucas and Industrial Services Manager Cee Payne.

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

Ranginui is above, Papatūānuku below, and we the people are in between. 

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 a Maungatapu, ki a Maitahi hoki. 

The first word is to the Creator, the beginning and end of all things. I also greet the great mountain Maungatapu and the River Maitahi (or Maitai), who define this place. 

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

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

E te tiamana, ko Joan, tēnā koe. Ngā whakawhetai ki a koe mō tāu pōwhiri ki a ahau. E ngā rangatira, Kerri, Cee koutou ko Mairi, tēnā koutou. E ngā kaimahi, me ngā kaiārahi nēhi e huihui nei, tēnā koutou.

To the Regional Council Chair, Joan, thank you for your invitation. To the rangatira – Kerri, Cee and Mairi – to the staff and all the nursing leaders gathered here (which is all of you), greetings. 

Who am I? 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 rā: “Kaua e takahia te mana o te tangata”. Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. 

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 today, I recalled the whakataukī: “Kaua e takahia te mana o te tangata”. “Do not trample on the mana of the people” – or translated simply, “don’t humiliate anyone”. This is so fundamental to who we are as NZNO that it’s enshrined in the NZNO Constitution as a statement of our Philosophy. So greetings, one and all. 

It’s great to be here in Whakatū/Nelson today, with my feet back on the Mainland I come from, and on the day before Pink Shirt Day. As you can see, I’m dressed for the occasion. 

Celebrated annually around the globe, Pink Shirt Day began in Canada in 2007 when two students, David Shepherd and Travis Price, took a stand against homophobic bullying after a new year 10 student was harassed and threatened for wearing pink. 

My older child Tama is a year 10 student this year. He’s in the LGBTQI+ club at his high school, and he wears pink. I’m wearing this shirt partly for him. 

But many of us here, I know, have experienced bullying from people in positions of power. Perhaps some of us are facing that situation in our working lives right now. 

Bullying takes a terrible toll – not only on us as nurses, midwives and healthcare workers but also indirectly on those we care for, because we can’t give of ourselves fully when we’re anxious, stressed and worried. 

In recognition of this, one of the other NZNO Regional Conventions last month featured a session on bullying from NZNO Organiser Deb Chappell that was profoundly insightful and very practical. A few of you may have seen it at the 2018 NZNO AGM and Conference in Wellington. I first came across Deb’s presentation at the Greater Auckland Regional Convention last year. 

Some of Deb’s points have stuck in my mind. 

Bullies, she said, thrive on secrecy. They work by isolating us from our support networks. They make sure nobody else knows what’s going on. They say to us, we’ll only make it worse for ourselves if we tell. 

But as a fellow survivor of bullying, I am here with you. I’m here to tell you that I believe in the message of Pink Shirt Day 2019: “Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora”. If we speak up and stand together, we can stop the bullying. And as soon as we start to do that, the weight lifts and suddenly it can become all so unexpectedly easy. 

This is the eighth NZNO Regional Convention for me so far this year. 

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

Today, I’ve been asked to speak for ten to 15 minutes. I’d like to use the rest of that short time to give some personal reflections on our past year, and what this means for NZNO and for our people going forward. 

From my perspective, one thing has overshadowed all else in the twelve months since we last met. It’s not to downplay development across our incredibly broad sector, but if there’s one thing that dominated, for me it’s the bargaining in the DHB Sector, and its aftermath. 

When I stood before you at this Regional Convention, a year and one day ago, it was at a different venue – the Tahuna Function Centre, looking out to the beautiful Tasman Bay/Te Tai-o-Aorere. 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 Nelson, on Waimea Road. Others, I’m sure, took to the streets outside Wairau 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 division, and the inherent mana of people was trampled upon. 

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. The mana of each person and of the group as a whole will be enhanced. 

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 says so in our Code of Conduct, from the Nursing Council. Our professionalism reminds a majority that others have a right to hold different opinions – and to remain collaborative towards them. This is also, I believe, the meaning of our whakataukī. Respect the inherent mana of every person. 

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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