Celebrating the little wins for environmental sustainability in our hospitals

Here is a photo taken at lunch time last week in the kitchen of our inpatient mental health unit.

On the right hand side is a single-use Styrofoam food container. Since 2012, our inpatient unit has been receiving 30-40 of these each day, seven days a week, for patient lunches – an estimated 100,000-130,000 packages, in all.

Styrofoam is a petroleum-based plastic. Chemicals used in the manufacture of Styrofoam are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as ecotoxic and carcinogenic. According to a paper posted by the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council, polystyrene foam packaging can last in a landfill for 500 years, leaching those chemicals into soil and waterways.

Sitting to the left, on our kitchen bench, is a lunch package made of sugarcane pulp, a by-product of the sugar refining industry. It is home compostable. Production of these Biocane clamshells is certified carbon neutral.

Last week, our unit finally phased out the use of Styrofoam and switched over to the sustainable alternative. This was achieved with the support of the Green Champions group – a DHB-wide network of staff volunteers who advocate for change in their workplaces.

District Health Boards are getting to grips with the big, transformational changes demanded by Government and society, to reduce their environmental impact.

While staff and our unions – through groups like the PSA Eco Network – continue to push for these system-wide changes, let’s not forget to celebrate the little wins for environmental sustainability in our hospitals, like this one.

PSA Eco Network: IPCC report, CA clauses, and new Wellington Convenor

30 September 2021

The PSA Eco Network committee hope you’re doing well in these strange, uncertain times. Please read on for an update on the latest IPCC report and what it means for our work, negotiating collective agreement clauses on climate change, and an introduction to our new Wellington Convenor, Peter Upson.

IPCC Report strengthens case for union climate action

By Grant Brookes, PSA Eco network National Co-Convenor

Last month saw the release of the first instalment of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Produced by 234 experts from 66 countries, including four New Zealand authors, the “Working Group I” report updates our current knowledge on the physical science basis of climate change. The next two instalments – from “Working Group II”, dealing with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and “Working Group III”, dealing with the mitigation of climate change – are due out next year. “This report is a reality check,” says Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte. For PSA members, it also underscores just how important it is that “decarbonisation” has been added to the PSA Strategic Goals 2021-27 And it highlights the vital role of Eco network members, both within the PSA and in our workplaces. “In 2019,” says the report, “atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years.”

Carbon emissions from human activities are driving the observed global warming and recent changes in the climate. These changes include an increase in hot extremes in almost every region on Earth, with more heavy rainfall events and agricultural and ecological droughts across many parts of the globe, as well. The report also outlines our possible climate futures, based on a set of five illustrative emissions scenarios. These range from a “very high” scenario, with CO2 emissions that roughly double from current levels by 2050, to “very low”, where CO2 emissions decline to net zero around 2050.

The “intermediate” scenario is where emissions remain around current levels. In this climate future, it is “very likely” that the average global surface temperature would rise by between 2.1°C and 3.5°C by the year 2100. The last time temperatures were 2.5°C higher was three million years ago.

In our region , maximum 1-day rainfall on parts of New Zealand’s West Coast is projected to rise by around 40%, while East Coast droughts will worsen. The effects of climate change will be worse in cities Under the “very high” emissions scenario, rising sea-levels could change the median shoreline position along sandy coasts in some parts of New Zealand by more than 200m, inundating large low-lying areas. The concluding message from Working Group I will strengthen Eco network campaigns for action on climate change.

“There’s no going back from some changes in the climate system,” they say “However, some changes could be slowed and others could be stopped by limiting warming. The climate we experience in the future depends on our decisions now.”

Climate Clauses in Collective Agreements

By Anna Friedlander, PSA Eco Rep

We recently completed collective bargaining and ratified our Collective Agreement at Waipā District Council. Among the claims we put to the employer was a climate justice clause. There were two parts to this claim. First, we wanted to make a joint statement that the union and the employer acknowledge that we are facing a climate and ecological emergency, and that this emergency requires urgent action. Second, we wanted the parties to make a commitment to work together to minimise, mitigate and eliminate our impact on the climate. This would be enacted by, for example, PSA representation on climate change work done by the employer. More broadly, we were looking to engage with the employer around its responses to climate change and impact on workers. Unfortunately this claim was not successful.

What did make it into the Agreement in the end was a statement of “Shared Principles and Values” including reference to Te Tiriti, the Waipā District Council values and the PSA Strategic Goals. The body of this clause included a statement that “Both parties share a particular interest in … supporting the council’s work in preparing for climate change”. In addition, we removed a redundancy clause that limited employer liability in the case of natural disaster – I’d consider this a win on the climate front given that we are expecting more frequent and more severe weather events as a result of climate change.Hopefully, we can build on this statement in the next round of bargaining.

One thing I think would help get claims like this across the line would be examples of climate clauses in other collective agreements. I think this might help employers feel some level of comfort in putting something new into the agreement. The more Collective Agreements that have climate justice clauses, the easier it will be to get such a clause introduced. If we all keep chipping away at this, we can make a change. Climate change is an urgent problem and the more fronts we can fight it on the better.

Please get in touch with us at eco@psa.org.nz if you have a good clause in your collective agreement, or if you’re working on raising a claim like this in bargaining. The PSA Eco network is working on developing model environmental clauses and a guide to progressing claims in bargaining.

Introducing our new Wellington Convenor

By Peter Upson, PSA Eco network Wellington Convenor

I am originally from Auckland. I currently live in Wellington and I work for Public Trust. I have a Bachelor of Social Science, Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws (First Class Honours) from the University of Waikato. I have been a Union Delegate for FIRST Union and the PSA. I am a Committee Member of New Zealand Labour Law Association. I have published two academic articles in the Comparative Labour and Social Security Law Review at the University of Bordeaux on New Zealand Labour and Employment Law. I was previously an Eco Rep for the PSA Eco network and I am also a member of the PSA Youth network. I am particularly interested in hearing from PSA Eco network members living in Wellington and the surrounding areas. In terms of environmental issues my main areas of interest are new technology, electronic waste and climate change.

We now have a full Eco network Convenor Committee. We met virtually for some planning this month and will be meeting again soon. We’ll provide an update on our planning and how that connects to the new PSA Strategic Goals.

FAQs – Why I’m voting ‘No’ on the DHB offer to PSA Nurses

PSA members in Mental Health and Addiction Services – including these workers at Porirua Hospital – voted to reject a DHB offer and take nationwide industrial action in 2005.

After more than ten months of MECA bargaining, PSA nurses have finally received a formal offer from the DHBs. Below I share what sits behind my decision to vote “No”. If I was to offer my decision in a sentence, it would look a little like this:

“To me, the offer does not adequately advance either fair pay or safe staffing and as such I wish to stand alongside my colleagues in other heath unions and continue to fight for a sustainable health system with safe and valued staff.“

But summary sentence aside, I do invite you to read the longer more considered version because the stakes have never been higher than right now, with our health system in crisis and our workforce at breaking point.

Background

PSA members covered by the MECA for the three Auckland DHBs, or the separate MECA for the rest of New Zealand, can now log in (at this link) to access the proposed Terms of Settlement and an FAQ document from our bargaining team. Voting on whether to accept or reject the offer will run from September 9 to 16.  

The PSA bargaining team is recommending acceptance of the offer, but adds: “It is solely the responsibility of members to vote, and the outcome of that collective vote determines the decision, as per any democratic organisation”. 

I encourage each member to carefully consider the Terms of Settlement and FAQ document and arrive at their own decision on how to vote. Union decisions are strongest when they are made by all of us.

But decisions are also best when they are debated and discussed. This article may even be updated, in light of any new information or different perspectives shared at Zoom meetings being held this week for PSA members at my DHB. It is in this spirit of constructive discussion and debate that I offer my carefully considered decision and rationale.

Decision Basis

As I see it, PSA nurses and NZNO nurses share the same aspirations:

  • A pay increase which recognises our value and retains staff in the DHBs, and
  • Meaningful action to address the unsafe staffing levels now jeopardising the wellbeing of nurses and health consumers alike. 

I’ve tested the offer against our key aspirations and below is my personal take on how the offer meets these key claims. 

Shouldn’t we be standing together with NZNO Nurses and other health workers? 

Yes. This for me is the first obvious question, because when union members stand together in the DHBs – and across the wider public sector – everyone is better off. 

Nurses belonging to NZNO, midwives belonging to the MERAS union and senior doctors belonging to ASMS have all rejected their DHB pay offers. Nurses and midwives have taken nationwide industrial action, while the senior doctors held stopwork meetings across all DHBs for the first time since 2007 and are being surveyed on further actions they would support to get a fair settlement. 

The health system is teetering on the edge of a crisis. Our colleagues have realised that now is the time to step up. By voting “No” and joining with them, we can strengthen the efforts to fix things.

Is this pay offer similar to the offer which NZNO members rejected?

The PSA bargaining team says, “Yes, it is similar on the salary offer”. But let’s be honest. The offer (for a full-time employee, before tax) consists of: 

  • $1,800 increase on base rates from 1 September 2021, funded out of DHB operating budgets
  • $1,100 lump sum payment, in lieu of back pay 
  • $4,000 increase on base rates, as an interim pay equity payment 
  • $6,000 lump sum in advance of pay equity (PE), which will be deducted from your PE backpay; and 
  • A possible additional $1,000 lump-sum payment – if a PE settlement is not agreed by 30 November 2021. 

This is not just “similar” to the NZNO pay offer. It’s virtually identical. The only difference in the numbers is that NZNO members were offered an extra hundred dollars in their lump sum – $1,200 in lieu of back pay, rather than $1,100. 

30,000 of our NZNO colleagues and co-workers have decided that their offer wasn’t good enough. I’m with them. 

Should pay equity be part of our MECA bargaining? 

No. Pay equity should not be part of our MECA bargaining, for a number of reasons. Firstly, PE and MECA bargaining are separate process – and it’s not just me who says so. 

At a media conference on 17 August, Health Minister Andrew Little said, “It’s important to clarify there have been two separate processes under way to improve on nurses’ pay. The first is the pay equity process, which started in 2018.

“The second process for nurses’ pay is the conventional renewal of applicable collective agreements. These negotiations generally focus on a cost of living adjustment for pay rates, as well as addressing other conditions in the collective agreement.”

“Nurses, certainly since we committed in 2018,” he added, “have always been going to get a pay equity deal.” 

The increase in base rates and back pay for PSA members under the PE deal is not affected by this MECA bargaining, and shouldn’t be mixed up with it. MECA bargaining, in the words of the Health Minister, should “focus on a cost of living adjustment”. 

The Health Minister also said on 17 August that he had written to the unions, the DHBs and the Ministry of Health and invited them to commence negotiations on the pay equity claim – separate from the MECA negotiations – “as soon as possible”. “I would hope that by the end of the year, we should be at, or close to an agreement.”

Voting to accept the DHB offer would mean payment of the lump sum “as soon as practicable” after 1 October 2021. This probably only brings payment forward by a matter of weeks, at most. But at the same time, it would have serious negative consequences for a lot of other PSA members. 

If PSA nurses accept an offer with a $1,800 increase on base rates – which is below inflation for most – and which is padded out with pay equity money, then it will set a benchmark for other groups. Around 13,000 of our PSA colleagues in allied health are also in bargaining with the DHBs at the moment, and they’re not in line for an advance payment of pay equity money. A “Yes” vote by PSA nurses would increase pressure on them to settle for less than a cost of living adjustment – to say nothing of the negative impact on PSA members in the wider public sector. 

Are the DHBs at least funding a cost of living increase? 

No. Stripped of the pay equity money, which is coming to PSA members through the separate PE process very soon anyway, the increase in base pay rates in the DHB offer is just $1,800 (pro rata, before tax, over 27 months).

In percentage terms, that equates to annual pay increases ranging from 1.0 percent (for a Community Mental Health or Public Health Nurses on their top step) to 1.9 percent (for a Mental Health Assistant on Step 2, noting that it is proposed to delete Step 1of the salary scale). 

The cost of living, as measured by CPI, rose by 3.3 percent in the year to June and the NZIER “consensus forecast” says it will stay above 2.0 percent for the next year, too. In other words, the pay offer funded by the DHBs falls short of a cost of living adjustment, for all PSA members. 

Isn’t the PSA opposed to the Government’s pay freeze? 

In the lead-up to the Budget in May 2021, the Government announced two more years of “pay restrictions” for workers in the public sector. The announcement took the form of a Government Workforce Policy Statement and Public Service Pay Guidance from the Public Service Commission.

Both of these documents stressed that pay equity (for those public sector workers covered by a PE claim) is a separate matter. The expected pay restrictions applied only to base rates in collective agreements (such as our MECAs), or in individual employment agreements. 

Our union immediately voiced strong opposition and demanded that public sector employers must value our work: “The PSA is taking a stand against the unacceptable Government pay restrictions.”

A delegation of PSA leaders met with Government ministers and advocated for “cost of living increases for all union members covered by collective agreements.”

“Change happens when ordinary people are prepared to make it happen,” said National Secretary Kerry Davies.

The current DHB offer to PSA nurses is virtually identical to the offer made to NZNO nurses in July – and Health Minister Andrew Little clarified at the time that that offer was in line with the Government’s pay restrictions. The offer to PSA nurses by the DHBs through collective bargaining is also in line with the pay restrictions – and it doesn’t represent a cost of living increase, either. 

As PSA members, we need to be prepared to make change happen. Let’s keep taking a stand against the unacceptable Government pay restrictions, insist on at least a cost of living increase through our collective bargaining and reject this sub-par DHB offer. 

Is this best we can get? 

No, I personally don’t believe this is the best offer we can get – and it appears that our bargaining team aren’t convinced, either. The Terms of Settlement which our negotiators have signed mention that if there’s a “group covered by another health sector MECA bargaining, and that other group arrives at a subsequent settlement that is materially different to the settlement agreed with the PSA”, then we’ll meet and discuss a proposal to “vary” our MECA.

If we really think that the nurses, midwives and doctors who are now fighting hard might get a better deal, then as unionists we’re morally obliged to help in that fight. It would be wrong to sit on the sidelines, letting them do all the work, and then try to claim the benefits afterwards. Let’s join together now, and get the best for all. 

Will the commitments on safe staffing make a real difference? 

The FAQ from our negotiating team barely mentions safe staffing. But I know that for many PSA nurses like me, the daily experience of being dangerously understaffed and seeing colleagues leave for Australia or quit the profession altogether must be addressed through this MECA round.

The Terms of Settlement mentions three “nursing wide initiatives [which] will be initiated as part of this settlement.” But once again, let’s be honest. The Minister of Health has now stated that an independent evaluation of CCDM implementation and effectiveness is going to happen anyway. And the other two nursing wide initiatives (a Ministry of Health recruitment campaign and a $5 million CCDM Progression Fund) will also go ahead, regardless of what happens with our MECAs. 

In reality, there’s only one thing in the DHB offer to address our dire situation – another steering committee. It will meet face to face, according to its proposed terms of reference, at least three times a year, with some virtual meetings in between. At least three people from the union, and three from the DHBs, will be present. 

Does this really sound like a realistic response to the crisis? 

If you believe the DHB offer will make a real difference, then you’ve got more faith in steering committees than I do. I’m voting “No”, because the scale of the crisis demands a solution far better than this.

Should this DHB offer have been recommended?

Yes it probably should have been – under the circumstances. This answer might surprise. But our bargaining team have given a clear explanation of why they’re recommending an offer for PSA members which is – at the very least – “similar” to the offer put to NZNO members in July, with no recommendation on its acceptance.

“PSA has a policy that our bargaining teams always make a recommendation, to either accept or reject an employer’s offer coming out of bargaining”, they said in their FAQ.

This was also the policy in NZNO, up until 2018. In fact, making a recommendation was a requirement for all NZNO bargaining teams, under the NZNO Constitution.

But after the NZNO MECA negotiating team made three recommendations for members to accept DHB offers, and after these offers were all rejected, NZNO members decided that the policy needed to change. At the union’s AGM in 2018, NZNO delegates voted to update the Constitution so that bargaining teams could no longer recommend employer offers.

If PSA nurses reject this MECA offer, perhaps it will be time to look at PSA policy, as well. 

NZNO Board Election – Why I’m backing Anne and Nano

Voting got under on 4 August in the NZNO Board Election. There are six candidates, standing for the two positions of NZNO President and Vice-President. What should guide our vote? I think there are seven key considerations. You can click on each one below, to find out more:

For most NZNO members, a 150-word candidate profile statement is all they have to go on. I have the benefit of some additional information, having known the majority of the candidates for many years and worked alongside several on the NZNO Board before. 

I’ve thought long and hard about how to present this information. Ordinarily, I would shy away from sharing my knowledge about how other candidates measure up against key considerations like these. But the stakes today are too high. NZNO is on a knife-edge, balanced between two different pathways. Right now, powered by a phenomenal DHB MECA campaign, NZNO has the possibility of becoming the union its members want and need it to be. Alternatively, there’s a very real chance that the wrong leaders could cement NZNO’s past failures. 

‘Our union needs to change’

The opening words in Anne Daniels’ profile statement get straight to the heart of the matter: “Our union needs to change.” 

The change we need is already under way. The 2021 DHB MECA campaign is demonstrating what a great union NZNO can be. The campaign is engaging, united, member driven, transparent and strong – light years ahead of where we were in 2018. 

Powered by a phenomenal DHB MECA campaign, NZNO has the possibility of becoming the union its members want and need it to be.

But this must not be a one-off, and it mustn’t be limited to DHB members only. 

To complete the transformation and extend its benefits to everyone, we need an NZNO Board that mirrors our union at its best. The first step along this pathway is to elect a new NZNO President and Vice-President. The next step will come in 2022, when seven other Board members will also be up for election. 

The fundamental choice now is between fresh leadership for NZNO, or a continuation of the secrecy, personal agendas and disregard of the membership which have derailed the Board, weakened the union and cost us all dearly. 

Back ourselves to make the change 

Anne Daniels for NZNO President and Nano Tunnicliff for Vice-President

If we want a union that fights for us, it needs to be led by people like us. Anne Daniels and Nano Tunnicliff are nurses who work on the floor, in busy hospitals. They aren’t based in an office, working nine to five. They understand the pressures we feel about understaffing and poor pay because they experience it personally, too. 

The same cannot be said about any of the other candidates. 

We need people who are proud to be union 

When I was elected to the NZNO Board in 2015, I was shocked to discover that the other Board members didn’t believe NZNO should be focused on the pay and conditions of its fee-paying members. They were even uncomfortable with the idea that we’re a union.

“NZNO is, to me, firstly a professional organisation”, wrote one. “If union passion could be harnessed for professionalism, imagine how much more visible nurses could be!”. Excluding myself, that was the general consensus. None of them had ever taken industrial action with their fellow members to improve pay and conditions for all. Most had never been on a union protest. Several were business owners themselves. One was married to an MP in the governing National Party, which was busy passing anti-union laws, and another didn’t believe that unions should exist.

When it came time at a Board meeting in early 2019 to start developing a new Strategic Plan to guide NZNO into the future,

“The chief executive drew the Board’s attention to the previous strategic plan process where the description of NZNO was changed in 2015 from a “union and professional association” to a “professional association and union”, reflecting a stronger emphasis on promoting the profession.  The chief executive acknowledged that NZNO needs to do more to profile the nursing profession and advised that the media have been able to cherry-pick information about NZNO activities making a stronger reference to being a ‘union’ than a ‘nursing professional association’.

I was the only Board member at that meeting who objected to this pathway, which would have taken us even further away from a union focus on the pay and working conditions of my fellow members. I was very disappointed when the others (including current Vice-Presidential contender Cheryl Hammond) went along with it. 

But that future direction for NZNO changed when Anne Daniels and others were elected to the Board in late 2019. For 30 years, Anne had proudly led a multitude union actions and campaigns to protect NZNO members. Under her influence, the Board’s development of the Strategic Plan 2021-25 took a very different path – focused on making NZNO a membership-led union. She also established a Board MECA committee to make sure that NZNO learnt the many lessons of the troubled 2018 DHB MECA campaign, as contained in the independent reviewer’s report by former CTU president Ross Wilson. 

‘Always standing strong for nurses’ – Anne Daniels (Pictured, Right) leads NZNO members on strike at Thames Hospital, March 1999.

Nano Tunnicliff’s union credentials are just as impressive. I first got to know Nano in 2008, when we were both on what was then the top elected union body in NZNO – the DHB National Delegates Committee.

Union leadership – President Nano Tunnicliff (Right) heading the NZNO delegation to the 2009 CTU Conference, with Grant Brookes (Left).

But Nano had been a successful union leader for years by that time – including as a negotiator for the historic first DHB MECA in 2004, and before that as a union organiser in the Australian Nursing Federation (which partly explains her strong support for nurse-patient ratios). 

None of the other candidates come close, in their commitment to union members, leadership experience and union pride. 

Nurses are ethical – our leaders should be too 

Anne Daniels has proven that she’s that special kind of leader who puts ethical values ahead of her own personal advancement. Along with fellow Board members Katrina Hopkinson and Sela Ikavuka, she took a principled stand in April 2020 when she courageously resigned from the NZNO Board. “Our personal and professional values were constantly compromised”, the trio wrote. “To remain would be condoning behaviour we know does not meet the members standards.”

Long-running concerns about unethical behaviour on the NZNO Board, which Anne Daniels and I experienced personally, were finally validated by an independent NZNO Governance Review in late 2020 which inquired into the Board’s activities over the previous 24 months. 

The review was conducted bi-culturally, by commercial corporate lawyer with the Tuia Group, Guy Royal (Ngāti Raukawa, Parehauraki, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi), and leadership development manager at Canterbury-based company Brannigans Human Capital, Chris Bailey. Both of the reviewers and their terms of reference were approved by Te Poari as well as the Board. 

Despite a statement that the review would “highlight what can be improved upon and this can be conveyed to members”, the final report has been suppressed. Only its 33 concluding recommendations have been released to the NZNO membership, so we do not know the full extent of the ethical issue it uncovered. But the recommendations clearly reveal its existence, stating that the Board should review its Code of Conduct, “including clarifying the consequences of breaching the code”. They also called for the Board to “improve the capability of the Chair with respect to Board ethics”. 

Incumbent Board members now standing for election as President and Vice-President, as well as those who were on the Board during the 24 months from 2018 to 2020, have questions to answer about ethical governance. Does Cheryl Hammond, for instance, believe it was ethical for the Board to spend three times as much members’ money on its own legal wrangles in 2018-19 as the entire amount budgeted ($80,770) for the 2018 DHB MECA campaign

The questions are even more pertinent for the candidate standing for both positions, Tracey Morgan, whose ongoing praise of Co-Chair Kerri Nuku shows no acknowledgement of the review findings. 

Morgan’s statement of skills and experience declares an extensive list of past governance roles, including a stint assisting Nuku as NZNO’s Tumu Whakarae. Yet it also contains omissions. Why for instance is there no mention of her past role as director in a company which was 100 percent owned, according to Companies Office records, by Nuku’s husband (although oddly, Nuku has also claimed to be the owner herself). What should voters make of this failure to declare a web of past business dealings with another member of the NZNO Board – one whose own capability with respect to Board ethics should be “improved”? What else has been omitted from the information presented by this candidate? Is there any truth to the serious and detailed allegations made about her by a former NZNO Board member in public Facebook posts?

End the secrecy – give us Board transparency

Many people were shocked to learn, when three Board members resigned last year, that elected NZNO Board Members are obliged to sign a non-disclosure disclosure agreement which prevents them from sharing information with other NZNO members. “Right from the start, we were required to sign a confidentiality agreement before our first meeting”, they said

Ex-directors reluctant to break confidentiality, Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, July 2020

The Board of any organisation shapes the culture of that organisation. The NZNO Board’s appalling misuse of standard governance confidentiality obligations has created a culture of secrecy which has infected the union as a whole. In many areas of NZNO, members and staff have been silenced and are now too afraid to speak up. It appears that the independent NZNO Governance Review conducted in late 2020 identified this problem, as it recommended that, “The Board establishes a Board-level protected disclosures (whistleblower) policy.” But there is no sign of progress on this recommendation. On the contrary, the current Board’s lack of transparency is getting worse.

Knowledge is power. By keeping the membership in the dark, the Board actively disempowers us. But the reverse is also true. The unprecedented openness and transparency seen in the magnificent DHB MECA campaign this year is a source of our new-found strength. It is part of the reason why we can now stand up for fair pay and safe staffing. In this election, we must vote for a President and Vice-President who will carry this change forward, not roll it back. 

Only two candidates speak about the issue of Board transparency and member empowerment in their candidate profile statements – Anne Daniels and Nano Tunnicliff. 

After being elected to the Board in 2019, Anne Daniels put up the strongest opposition to the gagging order preventing Board members from sharing information with the membership. She was the very last Board member to sign it. I wish to apologise publicly for being the one who persuaded her to do this. I hope that by speaking out now, I can go some way towards making amends. 

When Anne Daniels says, in her candidate profile, that she stands for “a union that empowers members to take the lead”, you can believe her. Her track record speaks for itself. So does Nano Tunnicliff’s. When she says in her profile statement, “I want to see improved transparency”, she means it. 

Fulfil the promise to be ‘membership-driven’ 

Members and staff alike are sick and tired of NZNO being driven by personal agendas at the top, not the needs of the membership as a whole. That was the clear message which came through the strategic planning consultation in December 2019. As the reviewer said, “Demonstrating that NZNO is a membership-driven organisation – this was by far the strongest message to come through from almost everyone”. 

In early 2020, under the influence of Anne Daniels, the Board was pushed to sign off a draft Strategic Plan which reflected this feedback. As a fellow Board member at the time, I can personally vouch for the truth of her statement: “I helped write the current strategic plan, advocating for a member led union.”

But in June 2020, just weeks after our resignations from the Board, the back-peddling had begun. Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku pulled support for the membership-driven Strategic Plan 2021-25, complaining that (amongst other things) it was too “DHB-centric”.

Thankfully, with the 2020 AGM and the deadline for finalising the plan fast approaching, it was too late for it to be rewritten. The Strategic Plan 2021-25 went through, as originally drafted, to become the guiding light for today’s member-driven DHB MECA campaign and also for Nano Tunnicliff’s Vice-Presidential pledge: “I will work towards the goal of the strategic plan to ensure that NZNO is a membership driven organisation.” 

And yet, outside of these campaigns, it’s almost like the document does not exist. No other candidate in the election is talking about NZNO as a “member-led” or “membership driven” organisation. Their profile statements don’t even refer to our union’s overall guiding strategy. It’s as if the prediction I made before the 2020 NZNO AGM is already coming to pass: 

“There are unlikely to be major changes to the draft NZNO Strategic Plan 2021-25 at this late stage, given that it’s been approved by the Board, sent for final consultation to all member groups and is due to be formally adopted at the AGM next month. What’s more likely to happen is that it will be adopted without the blessing of the kaiwhakahaere, then sit in a drawer for the next five years gathering dust while her agenda sets the direction.”

There is another pathway we can take. Powered by the phenomenal 2021 DHB MECA campaign, we can elect new leaders who will make NZNO the membership-led union we all want it to be. 

Pick the champions of safe staffing 

‘Today I took to the streets to strike with my fellow health care colleagues’, wrote ED nurse Devon Kilkelly on 9 June – https://tinyurl.com/SafeStaffingSDHB

Isn’t it incredible that today, in the midst of a nursing crisis which is shaking the entire health system, four of the six candidates standing for NZNO President and Vice-President make no mention at all of safe staffing in their election statements? 

NZNO has been treading the same path in pursuit of safe staffing for almost two decades. We are no closer to that goal. We need leaders with a new plan that can work. Anne Daniels has such a plan. 

In 2020, she and I co-wrote a policy remit for a “Review of NZNO strategies for safe staffing”. When it was put to NZNO members in a referendum last August, they voted:

“That NZNO shall, during the 2021/22 year:

  1. Conduct an independent evaluation of its current Safe Staffing strategies, including CCDM, and publish any results showing significant outcomes for nursing workloads and patient safety at a national level; and
  2. Present options to campaign for additional Safe Staffing mechanisms, including legislated minimum nurse/ patient ratios, for consideration and endorsement by NZNO members.”

Sadly, after Anne Daniels, Katrina Hopkinson, Sela Ikavuka and I resigned from the Board in April 2020, the impetus for this member-driven change was suppressed. The remaining Board members have tied up the review of safe staffing strategies in bureaucratic red tape. The proposed start date for the review came and went months ago, without even a murmur. In reality, unless there is fresh leadership on the Board, the review that NZNO members voted for and desperately need is unlikely to lead anywhere. 

Anne Daniels now says, “I co-wrote a successful remit to start the work towards safe staffing legislation. This must happen.” Nano Tunnicliff agrees, saying: “I will advocate for nurse patient ratios.” 

The choice in this election is clear. Pick the champions of safe staffing. 

‘Electing a Board to achieve NZNO’s potential’ – Letter to Kai Tiaki

The 2021 DHB MECA campaign is demonstrating what a great union NZNO can be. The campaign is engaging, united, member driven, transparent and strong. 

Now we need an NZNO Board that mirrors the union at its best. It isn’t what we have at the moment, and this means members are missing out. 

In 2016, delegates at the NZNO AGM voted, “that the NZNO Board meetings agendas and minutes be made available to the membership and staff.” 

In moving that motion, the Nurse Managers Section said, “Board members are elected to ensure resources are used to carry out the mission of the NZNO. Board meeting minutes should be made available in the interests of transparency and engagement.”

Under NZNO’s member driven Constitution, AGM votes are binding on the NZNO Board. Yet the Board is not making its agendas or minutes available on the NZNO website. None have been posted since the departure of the previous Chief Executive in February. 

It is concerning that the Board now appears to believe it can flout the Constitution, disregard the will of the membership and operate in secrecy. 

More concerning still is their failure to release NZNO’s 2020/21 audited financial statements and Annual Report. 

The Acting Chief Executive is constitutionally required to make these available to all member groups at least two months before the NZNO AGM, to give members time to scrutinise the documents and hold the Board to account. That deadline came – and went – on 16 July. 

Members seeking transparency are now being told that the auditors have not yet presented their audit opinion. 

I personally oversaw four annual audits of NZNO’s finances, so I know what they normally involve. Did the Board simply fail to commission the audit on time, or have the auditors perhaps uncovered financial irregularities requiring a longer investigation? 

The lack of transparency from a Board disengaged from its membership seems to be a continuation of the disturbing failures uncovered in last year’s NZNO Governance Review – in areas such as Board ethics and capability – although we can’t know for certain as they have refused calls to release this report, too. 

Thankfully, members will soon have a say about their Board. An election for two leading Board members – the NZNO President and Vice-President – runs from 4 August until 10 September. Seven more Board members are up for election next year.

With great people standing in this election, members can have hope that we will soon have a Board willing and able to achieve NZNO’s full potential. 

Grant Brookes, RN

This article was updated on 19 August 2021, to reflect the letter as published in the August issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand.