The President comments: ‘We will overcome’

According to my research, the upcoming 2019 Annual General Meeting in Wellington should mark the longest period of continuous service by an NZNO president in our 110-year history. I will have served four years and a day. 

Past presidents have won an equal, or greater number of elections. But through the quirks of history, either they weren’t consecutive, or they were at a time when presidential terms were two years, rather than three years as they are today. 

Throughout this past 110 years, NZNO has undergone much dynamic change. We’ve transformed from a small group vehemently opposed to advocacy on pay, to over 50,000 members prepared to take to the streets to secure an environment where good health can thrive. 

NZNO has embraced change throughout its history. Members voted to strike in 1985, only to have it called off. Four years later, Auckland nurses Jenny Landsbergen, Lucien Cronin and Gordon Love took to the streets in our first ever nationwide industrial action.

The four years of my presidency has been a story of working together towards positive, member-led change. We have gained momentum in collectively shifting the ethos of our organisation. We are insisting that our organisation is led by us, the members. 

The changes started small. In 2015, delegates at the NZNO AGM directed NZNO to act in accordance with member values. They voted that we should divest from fossil fuels, become a Living Wage employer and expand our global connectedness with other nursing unions

Within a year, the last of these three was complete. We had joined with our sister unions in Global Nurses United, who are now leading the worldwide fight for safe nurse:patient ratios

The changes grew through members’ growing insistence that we would lead our organisation’s direction. As 2017 rolled into 2018, members in the DHBs stood up and took unprecedented actions for themselves, for communities reliant on our over-stretched health system and for a union that represents us all. 

As I wrote in this column a year ago, about the DHB strike of July 2018, “For me personally, the hours I spent picketing and marching with my fellow NZNO members that day will stand as the proudest moments of my nursing career”. 

And finally, now nearly every important NZNO decision belongs to all members with one member one vote

The four-year journey has not been easy. At times, there has been rancour and bitter division. 

But we have worked through our differences before. We have innovated, adapted, and made significant changes to be where we are today. Had our organisation not been prepared to embrace change we would still be campaigning against penal rates, and standing against the 40-hour working week! 

Last month, a hard-hitting report was released on the 2017/18 DHB MECA bargaining and campaign. I believe it affirms the experiences and concerns of thousands of NZNO members. The very existence of this report, I ascribe to member pressure, in particular to the proposals put forward at last year’s AGM by the NZNO Greater Auckland Regional Council

Today, there is a last stand of resistance to member-led change in NZNO. But we will overcome because over the four years we have organised ourselves to insist our member voice will be heard and acted upon. 

This year’s AGM will see a new Board take office, elected by the entire NZNO membership. The new Board will have to ensure that all recommendations of the MECA review are implemented, that a new NZNO Strategic Plan for 2020-25 is put in place and that our structures are up to the challenges the future will throw at us. I look forward to working with your newly elected Board to ensure this happens. 

The last four years have been important ones for our 110-year old organisation. The next chapter is ours to write together.

First published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, September 2019

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