‘Fairness and justice for the good of the organisation’ – Speech to 2019 NZNO SGM

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā kārangarangatanga maha, tēnā koutou. To you the authorities, the voices and the many connections, greetings. 

Kia tau te rangimārie ki runga i a tātou. Peace be upon us all. 

I want to start by asking of you all, ‘where do you want NZNO to be in two years time? What is your vision for this organisation we pour our heart and soul into?’

That vision you just built, those hopes and aspirations for NZNO, are what connects all of us in this room. 

And underpinning this vision are our shared values of fairness and justice, and our belief in transformation through unity and collectivity. 

In the short time I have today, I’ll share why I believe the only way to achieve our future vision for NZNO is to honour these values today.

Let’s start with fairness and justice.

We’re here to decide on a resolution, moved by the outgoing Board, that I should be removed as President for misconduct. 

The motion is reliant upon Schedule Six of the NZNO Constitution. The wording in that Schedule goes back – virtually unchanged – at least to the birth of NZNO in 1993. 

What were our forebears thinking back then, when they drafted it? What guidance might we take from the wisdom of our nursing tūpuna? 

There are clues in the surrounding text. Schedule Six says: 

“Position holders may at any time be removed from office… by reason of:

  • inability to perform the requirements of the position; or
  • bankruptcy; or
  • neglect of duty; or
  • misconduct; or
  • misappropriation of NZNO funds or property.”

I ask you to consider, first of all, whether using these rules in the current circumstances honours the intent of our forebears? Is this a fair and just use of the rules? 

Let us now look to the grounds for removal offered by the Board and test these for fairness and justice. 

In my view, there’s only one actual misdemeanour in the whole of their thirty pages. 

On 3 July 2018, I sent a Facebook message to an NZNO Senior Manager who I’d been assigned to work with on the DHB MECA campaign. NZNO has confirmed to Radio New Zealand that this person was Industrial Services Manager Cee Payne. 

My message was inappropriate. I know that it caused distress. I take ownership of the fact I made a mistake. 

For a variety of reasons, between then and now I’ve been prevented from making an apology for my mistake. The NZNO Chief Executive wrote a memorandum to the Board the day after the message which acknowledges that he prevented me from apologising that day. You can see that Memorandum on pages 45-48 of my statement

Cee Payne is not here today, so I can’t apologise to her directly. But I’d like to make a public apology, reading from a letter to her which I wrote and gave to the Board on 17 December last year. Sadly, this letter was never delivered.

“Tēnā koe Cee,

On the morning 2 July 2018 you visited me in my office. The words exchanged with you caused visible distress. 

The following day you received from me a communication sent via Facebook Messenger. I acknowledge that this message was inappropriate. 

I apologise unreservedly for the upset I caused for you on both occasions. 

My deep appreciation of your contribution to NZNO, which I have expressed consistently to yourself and to others, continues undimmed. 

I genuinely welcome the opportunity to work with you to rebuild our professional relationship.

Nāku noa nā

Grant Brookes”

The Board paints me as unrepentant. They deny that I have tried to apologise. As I hope this letter from last December and my apology today shows, nothing could be further from the truth. 

I would now like to hand a signed copy of this letter to the Board, once again, hopeful that this time it might be delivered.

You have heard me acknowledge my mistake. 

But what you haven’t heard – and won’t hear about today – are very similar mistakes made by other Board members over the last 12 months. Some of those people asking you to remove me from office have been the subject of complaints themselves about inappropriate messaging via Facebook – multiple complaints, in some cases. 

This should not be surprising. How many of us in the room today have never been the subject of a complaint, during our nursing career? 

We all make mistakes. The question is, what should be done about them? Should our mistakes be used as an opportunity to inflict the maximum punishment?

Is that who we are, as nurses – caring professionals? 

As unionists? 

Is that the kind of disciplinary process we support in our own workplaces? 

No! We can’t abandon fairness without changing who we are and what we stand for. 

The remaining allegations in the Board’s 30-page dossier are either false, trivial or worse. 

It is alleged, for instance, that I am guilty of “unprofessional conduct towards a senior member of staff”, by sending two emails which were “patronising”, “demeaning” and “unacceptable”, or “unjustifiably critical”. I include those emails, on pages 42 and 43. I’ll read one of them, sent on 21 July 2018:

“Kia ora koutou,

At the Leadership Team meeting on Monday, I provided grounds for believing that a breach of Board confidentiality occurred during the teleconference held on Wednesday 11 July, attended by ten Board members. It was agreed that more information should be gathered in the first instance by [name].

I have not received confirmation that this has been done. In addition, I am aware that [name] is now on leave until 30 July.

As Board Co-Chair, I share responsibility for ensuring implementation of processes that result in Board effectiveness, which naturally include maintenance of confidentiality. Owing to the apparent delay in acting and the lack of clarity around timeframes, therefore, I am obliged to bring this to the Board now, for your attention.

The LT meeting minute is self-explanatory:

Regards

Grant”

The fact that the Board references this email as grounds to remove me from office is beyond trivial. It is bizarre – so bizarre that it’s actually incomprehensible, unless seen in the context of what else has been going on inside NZNO. 

An honest and full account of that is contained in Ross Wilson’s MECA report. He observes that:

“The pressure which came onto the organization and individuals during this time was intense and, at times, almost overwhelming.”

He adds: “The pressures had consequences in strained relationships between key individuals and groups within the organisation which have not yet been adequately addressed.”

Evidence of strained and fractured relationships within NZNO is everywhere.

Three days from now, on Thursday, NZNO Senior Managers will appear as defendants in the Employment Relations Authority in Tauranga to account for a complete relationship breakdown between themselves and NZNO staff in the Tauranga office.

Three weeks ago, the anonymous Florence Smith posted on Facebook a complaint letter sent to Cee Payne and NZNO HR during the MECA negotiations, signed by “multiple NZNO frontline staff”. In it, organisers expressed concern about NZNO senior staff’s inability to listen to either organisers or members. 

Radio New Zealand concluded from the MECA report that NZNO suffered “deep divisions, including a loss of faith and trust, by nurses in their union during contentious pay talks last year.”

As a result, dissatisfied members have been leaving to join the newly established alternative to our nurses’ union.

NZNO membership numbers have fallen by 1,766 between September 2018 and last Friday. That will shave the better part of a million dollars off NZNO’s bottom line. Going forward, it’s likely to mean fewer services and less support for members like you.

Fundamental relationship strain, at times pushed to breaking point, is the systemic issue underlying this Special General Meeting.

Removing me from office will not heal these deep divisions, nor rebuild trust and confidence from our membership. I shudder to think what it would do to our bicultural relationships. 

It’s been inferred today that I must be removed for the good of NZNO. Removing me will in fact make things much worse. 

If today, this SGM overrides the democratic will of the members to have me as their president, it will be taking us further down the path of division and breakdown, just as we’re heading into DHB MECA bargaining once more. 

But we have an alternative. We can instead acknowledge where our organisation has come from, and have confidence that with our shared values and our belief in the transformative power of collectivity and unity we can and will build the NZNO we together envision. 

Our shared values are such a strong foundation to move forward with. I leave you all – especially you Kerri, the Kaiwhakahaere I have worked with so closely for so long – with my personal commitment. My personal pledge is to move forward, looking to build unity and collectivity, to advance fairness and justice.

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

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