Building global ties

Reports from the GNU meeting by NZNO president Grant Brookes

Nursing union leaders from around the world came together in the Caribbean in July for the annual meeting of Global Nurses United (GNU)

Founded in 2013 by representatives of 14 nursing unions, GNU now spans 27 countries. This year’s meeting meeting, attended by representatives from 19 countries, was hosted by the Dominican National Union of Nursing Workers, with the assistance from the United States’ (US) largest union for RNs, National Nurses United (NNU). 

Hosting this year’s GNU meeting was the Dominican National Union of Nursing Workers, known by its Spanish acronym SINATRAE.

Attending on behalf of NZNO were kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku and I, with Te Poari member Tina Konia also attending as a self-funded observer. 

Addressing the opening ceremony, NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo said that when nurses stand together in one hospital, they could hold their bosses accountable. 

‘Guardians of humanity’

National Nurses United executive director Bonnie Castillo addressed the opening ceremony, alongside SINATRAE general secretary Julio Cesar Garcia Cruceta.

“When we stand together in one city, one province or state, or one country, we can advocate for patient and nurse safety on a larger scale and with greater power. So it is incredible that nurses are building our solidarity to the highest level and strengthening our ties globally. I look around today, and I see advocates for the health and safety of everyday people. I see the guardians of humanity.”

The struggle for union rights in an age of authoritarian Right Wing government topped the meeting agenda. A spokesman for Guatemala’s National Union of Health Workers, Luis Alpirez Guzmán spoke about the international campaign to secure his release, supported by NZNO, after eleven of the union’s leaders were arrested in January. 

Filipino Nurses United general secretary Jocelyn Andamo reported that police agents had come to her offices and interrogated staff. A letter calling for an end to the attacks and signed by GNU affiliates, including NZNO, was later sent to Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte. 

But there were also success stories. Formed in 2011, India’s United Nurses Association (UNA) has now has 550,000 members. 

It has members in 23 overseas countries, including New Zealand, where they would be encouraged to join NZNO, UNA president Rince Joseph said. 

Speakers from NNU and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions shared their successful campaigns for stronger legal protections from workplace violence. We were all encouraged to lobby our governments to ratify and abide by the new Convention Concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work adopted by the International Labour Organisation this year. 

Other items on the agenda concerned safe staffing, universal health coverage, public health and the environment, disaster relief and retirement security. 

The environmental discussion focused on union campaigns for people’s access to clean water and to prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Underscoring our common cause, Maria Estela of Costa Rica’s National Association of Nursing Professionals spoke of the “creeping control” of water sources and the erosion of indigenous rights by multinational companies. “They’re bottling our water to sell it back to us”, she said. 

Kerri Nuku spoke on NZNO’s campaigns for health equity for Māori communities and pay equity for Māori nurses working for Māori and iwi health providers. 

NNU co-president Cathy Kennedy showed that disaster relief didn’t always happen overseas. This year, NNU members had provided humanitarian assistance to children and migrant families detained at the US-Mexico border. 

On behalf of NZNO, I thanked NNU for demonstrating the moral heart of nursing. This was also demonstrated by New Zealand nurses, along with other workers, who rallied outside the US embassy in Wellington in July, calling for an end to the inhumane treatment of children. 

The meeting concluded by passing a resolution supporting climate and immigrant justice

First published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, September 2019. Reposted with permission.

Related coverage:

‘Nurse/patient ratios under the spotlight at GNU’

‘Providing maternal and child care with scarce resources’

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