The President comments: 'Year of the nurse, the midwife and of coming back together'

THE YEAR of the Nurse and Midwife is now just over a month old. This international celebration is long-overdue recognition of our professions’ contribution and our worth.

But we all know our professions need and deserve more than a year of acknowledgement. Behind the celebrations is our health system under strain and our professions under pressure. Distressing health inequities persist and nurse and midwife shortages are predicted to grow.

So how can we, as NZNO members in Aotearoa, make this a year to celebrate? 2020 affords real opportunities, but success is not a certainty unless we unite.

Our work has been historically undervalued because we’re a female-dominated profession. A pathway to resolution may be close, with our first pay equity settlement due this year. Will we be able to drive this settlement to all sectors and members?

A solution to entrenched pay disparities for those in Māori-led health-care providers could also be close at last, thanks to years of campaigning and a landmark claim lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal by Te Rūnanga. But with their first deadline of 2020 already missed, can we hold the Crown to account?

The district health board multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) is up for renegotiation. Can we make the gains our professions need in our benchmark collective?

Together, we can make 2020 our year. But that will rely on us using our best source of power: unity in action. And there’s no easy way to say this – unity in NZNO has lately been in short supply.

“In our combined 50-plus years of reporting and observing the activities of NZNO and the wider profession, we have witnessed some turbulent times”, wrote two co-editors in this journal last October. “But never before have we witnessed the division now, sadly, so evident within the organisation.”

To advance the health and wellbeing of our professions, we must heal our internal divisions. Each of us – especially those in positions of leadership – must take our share of responsibility for the years of division, and commit to rebuilding NZNO unity and power. The way to do so, I think, has already been written.

Acting in good faith

“Whatever people’s personal or political understandings”, said the co-editors, “the constitution offers a clear definition of partnership: Partnership is defined as including an acknowledgement by NZNO, based upon the te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, of the ideals of reciprocity and of mutual benefit, including an obligation to act reasonably, honourably, and in good faith. In so recognising, NZNO further acknowledges the need for, and emphasis on, recognition, respect, accountability, compromise, and a balancing of interests.”

With ideas of reciprocity, respect, recognition and mutual benefit, this partnership concept is about working collectively to advance the interest of all, not just your own immediate interests. Indeed, our definition of partnership is a well-written way of describing the fundamental union principle of looking out for everyone. In 2020, this must be our way of working.

When together we remove historic pay injustices for women, the men in NZNO will benefit too. When together we end discriminatory funding for Māori and iwi providers, gains will also be made for the many non-Māori working in that sector.

But mutual benefit is not always automatic. It takes work, and commitment from us all.

By May this year, as things stand, NZNO members covered by the primary health care MECA will be paid up to 10.6 per cent less than those in DHBs. All those benefiting from extra steps in their latest MECA should now lend their support to those who don’t yet have them.

2020 is the year of the nurse and the midwife. Let it also be our year of coming back together. Our professions and our patients are relying on it. •

First published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, February 2020. Reposted with permission. 

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