‘An NZNO leadership willing to face reality’ – Letter to Kai Tiaki

It was sad to see in October’s coverage of the NZNO annual general meeting that membership had dropped by 0.9 percent over the 2019/20 year, to end on 31 March at 51,643. But I was struck by chief executive Memo Musa’s comment about this to the AGM, that “the trajectory still pointed to growth”. 

As a union, we have power in numbers. So a trajectory of growth would be good news for members. It would mean more union strength to deliver for each one of us, and more resources to support nursing. Sadly, however, this doesn’t appear to be the case. 

Just six days before the AGM, on 11 September, the chief executive had emailed all members with the results of the Board by-election. The notice stated that total membership (the number of eligible voters) was now 50,418. In other words, there had been a further 2.4 percent drop the in five months from 31 March. 

NZNO won an award at the 2019 Congress of the International Council of Nurses, for having at least three quarters of New Zealand’s practising nurses as members. This was based on an NZNO membership return submitted in 2018 and the Nursing Council’s register, as at 31 March 2019. If the awards ceremony was held today, NZNO would not qualify.

The chief executive also told this year’s AGM that, “NZNO was ‘lucky’ compared to other unions, many of which were seeing a decrease or ‘stunted’ growth”. 

The day before these words appeared in the October Kai Tiaki, a headline on Stuff announced, “Covid-19 boosts NZ union membership”. According to the Stuff article, “Union members as a proportion of the workforce rose over the three months to June, to 19.8 per cent compared with 19.1 per cent in the December quarter 2019, according to Statistics New Zealand data released by the Council of Trade Unions. Union membership rose by about 12,000 to 411,000 by the end of June, from 399,000 in March.”

Musa’s account to the 2020 AGM had the story back to front. Over the two years from September 2018 up until the 2020 Board election, while other unions have been growing, NZNO membership dropped by 4.4 percent from 52,712 to 50,418. This is not a “trajectory of growth”. 

NZNO members deserve the truth. And NZNO staff – whose livelihoods depend on the number of fee-paying members – are entitled to no less. 

The fall of 2,294 members since September 2018 is the largest numerical drop over a two-year period in NZNO’s history. This is sapping our union strength, and shaving more than a million dollars off NZNO’s annual income. It should be ringing alarm bells for all our leaders and triggering urgent corrective action. To rebuild our organisation, we need a leadership willing to face reality and be held to account. 

Grant Brookes, RN

First published (slightly abridged) in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, December 2020. The resignation of NZNO chief executive was announced two days after the letter was submitted for publication.

Published by grantbrookes

Kia ora! I’m Grant Brookes, a Nurse, Trade Unionist and NZNO past President now living in Pōneke Wellington, New Zealand with my partner and two children. Since graduating in 1996, I’ve practised nursing in five cities in three countries. I’ve belonged to four nursing unions – and been a rep in three of them. This is my personal blog. There’s more about me and my time as President at nznogrant.org.

2 thoughts on “‘An NZNO leadership willing to face reality’ – Letter to Kai Tiaki

  1. Hope springs eternal as they say but until we stop following to the neo-liberal, NPM, corporatist mythology and return (Were we ever?) to being a collective, democratic union that represents all members equitably on the basis of one member one vote with an elected General Secretary accountable to the membership hope I fear is rather dim.
    In solidarity
    Mike Pye


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