Can The Nurses Win On Their Own?

By   /   June 19, 2018  /   33 Comments

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In an economy where roughly half the paid workforce have not had a pay-rise for close to two years, will the Nurses’ Organisation’s demand for an immediate, across the board, 11 percent increase strike the average Kiwi as “about right” or “too much”. With an experienced registered nurse’s salary set to rise from $66,755 to $77,386 by December next year under the present offer, will the two-thirds of workers who earn considerably less than that sum (in 2016 the median NZ income was just $48,800) regard the union’s proposed strike action as reasonable – or unreasonable?

NEW ZEALAND’S NURSES are about to discover whether their store of public good-will is big enough to see them through a strike. Very few New Zealanders with experience of this country’s public health system will speak any way but glowingly of its staff. Nurses in particular draw the public’s praise and respect. In our overburdened and understaffed hospitals they display the weary-but-unflinching professionalism of workers required to operate in an environment of more-or-less permanent crisis.

No one knows better that this country’s frontline health professionals how potentially dangerous this situation can become. New Zealand needs more nurses – lots more nurses. But to keep the staff it already has – let alone attract new recruits – nurses insist they must be paid more. Lots more.

But, how much more? That is the question. In an economy where roughly half the paid workforce have not had a pay-rise for close to two years, will the Nurses’ Organisation’s demand for an immediate, across the board, 11 percent increase strike the average Kiwi as “about right” or “too much”. With an experienced registered nurse’s salary set to rise from $66,755 to $77,386 by December next year under the present offer, will the two-thirds of workers who earn considerably less than that sum (in 2016 the median NZ income was just $48,800) regard the union’s proposed strike action as reasonable – or unreasonable?

The offer on the table also guarantees that an additional 500 nurses will be recruited to the national health-sector workforce. This is clever. The single most important contributing factor to the crisis in the nation’s hospital wards is chronic understaffing. More than anything else it is the personal toll extracted by the excessive workloads caused by understaffing that is fuelling nurses’ anger and impatience with the District Health Boards’ management. It would be interesting to know whether the 9 percent offer on the table would be deemed enough if nurses could be convinced that their workloads were about to be reduced very rapidly to more bearable levels.

The DHB negotiators have also been clever in advancing the figure of a third-of-a-billion dollars as the all-up cost of the settlement on the table. To many New Zealanders this will be regarded as an extraordinarily generous sum – especially when the money on offer has been drawn from their taxes. In rejecting the offer, the Nurses’ organisation runs the risk of being dismissed as either unrealistic or greedy – or both.

The best way to avoid this perception taking hold would be for the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) to present the Nurses’ claim as the first of many. After nearly a decade of both public- and private-sector wage restraint, the unions could argue, the time has come for working people to make up the lost ground. The CTU could emphasise the fact that Nurses are not the only workers in New Zealand who have been expected to work harder and longer for no appreciable improvement in their overall living standards. Nurses are, however, the first occupational group to vote in favour of doing something about it.

If the CTU pledged itself to ensuring that the Nurses fight does not turn into a solitary struggle. If frontline health professionals could be presented as merely the first of many workers ready to embrace the tactics necessary to win substantial improvements in their wages and conditions, then trade unionism in New Zealand could have a new birth of freedom.

If the nurses are left to fight this battle on their own, however, then, sadly, there is a better than even chance that the politics of envy and resentment will prevail over the politics of solidarity.

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33 Comments

  1. Denny Paoa says:

    Its a 3% for 2017-2018, 3% for 2018-2019 and $2000 for some, not all members. Not 9%. Time to crack open that $36bn ACC Investment Fund!

  2. Castro says:

    “the average Kiwi” WTF is that? Gary Lin?

  3. Michelle says:

    I hope none of them voted for the tories cause if they did they deserves what they get.

  4. XRAY says:

    I don’t think I have ever seen such a reasonable offer in the history of this country. But I admit I do not know the detail.

    But having seen that you can best believe that other public servants are looking at this enviously and they too have all been hung out to dry by the previous government to pay for the tax cuts and the bullshit surplus.

    And it was not wage restraint, it was wage stagnation with a very silent sinking lid policy increasing the workload for all.

    If the nurses turn this down, please redirect it to other areas. As Winston has quite rightly said, all the damage cannot be undone in one year!

  5. bob says:

    On 10/01/17 Stuff reported an average salary increase of 2.6% for DHB management for preceding year, on 6/01/16 stuff repored that DHB CEO salaries increased between 2.1% and 45% for all but Nigel Murray, while other health employees received less than the cost of inflation. 444 DHB management empolyees share 65 million dollars at an average of $146.00, you just know management will take more than their fair share of the money set aside for wage increses.

  6. dave brown says:

    Running scared of the public Chris?
    What is the public? Its a phony substitute for class analysis.

    Neoliberalism has driven us to this place you fear – the petty bourgeois default to personal envy and greed becomes the “public”.

    The only way to fight, win reforms, and break the grip of neoliberalism (capitalism on steroids) is for Nurses and all workers fighting for a living wage to build solidarity with other workers to help win their strike action.

    That is the way to break the neoliberal traits of personal greed and envy and replace them with class solidarity to win collective solutions.

    If you want the CTU head office to get involved it will strengthen the dead hand of the labour bureaucracy to force the unions into the leg-iron of state compulsory arbitration to stifle rank and file union action and solidarity.

  7. Andrew says:

    Why should employees expect an across the board pay increase if there is zero inflation in the economy and there has been no improvement in productivity?

    • Quicksilver says:

      As a small example.
      House prices have risen astronomically over the last ten years (when nurses had no pay rise).
      That means the costs for building and maintenance have also risen.
      It means the costs of rates have risen.
      It means the costs to insure have risen.
      It means rents have risen.
      And thats just the housing sector!

      Zero inflation you say?

      Only on Planet Key.

  8. Ada says:

    So a pay claim that might been seen by the public as too much can be made more acceptable by being presented by the CTU as just the first in a general nation-wide wage breakout?

    Not sure that approach would work very well.

    Nurses have the public’s sympathy. Trade unionists generally don’t.

  9. Michelle says:

    One of the problems is we still undervalue roles largely occupied by women despite us being world leaders when it came to universal voting we still live in a very patriarchal country. And the 9 years of neglect under the last government cannot all be fixed in just 9 months. We all need to be more patient goods things take time. Now I hope our farmers aren’t complaining about others wanting a pay rises cause there mess is going to cost us how much ? all because some idiots didn’t follow the tagging system for stock movements. If I was them I would shut my mouth cause they get more than there fair share from our taxes and I for one am sick and tired of them bleating.

  10. I support the nurses. They should be paid more; as should teachers , support staff ; cleaners, enrolled nurses, health care assistants, orderlies, catering workers and the list goes on into private sector workers whose wages are so far behind its not funny. I also know the CTU and other unions support them. I would love to see nurses as leaders. The fact they have voted for industrial action is brave but why are the Burger King workers not front of mind at the moment (also taking industrial action). And back here in the private sector, we are now arguing for wages to catch up with the minimum wage goal of 2021 and still talking pay rises for other based on inflation i.e. 1.5%.

    • Marc says:

      Why are BENEFICIARIES not front of the mind, being promised increases in Accommodation Supplement as of 1 April, then taken off the most in need again, who had reviews for their Temporary Additional Support or Special Benefit after the next review?

      I hear these stories, and it makes me SICK hearing Labour MPs ask patsy questions in question time, so Grant Robertson can answer and boast the lie, that soooo many families are much better off now, due to their flawed Families Package.

  11. Marc says:

    The nursing profession in New Zealand is still one of the most highly unionised work force, and thus can exert a lot of negotiating power, e.g. by deciding to go on strike.

    Teachers are also still relatively highly unionised, more than other professions and work forces, and they can also wield a fair bit of power.

    It gets a bit less with public service workers being unionised in the PSA and so, but even they can force the government to make more concessions.

    Problem is, we have now a very divided country here, nearly half are renters and will possibly NEVER afford their own homes, most in private enterprises are not unionised as tricked into individual employment contracts, and apart from some well paid contractors (e.g. tradies) and so, many are not even able to earn what nurses or teachers may get, even though their pay leaves to be desired in view of hours worked.

    After decades of neoliberal brainwashing, of individualising so many aspect of life, of creating competition at all levels of society, and after the destruction of most unions by reducing their membership and clout, many may sympathise with nurses, teachers and so, wish them well, but when they may be asked to pay more taxes for all this increase in wages and salaries, for more nurses, there will be many not very committed to show solidarity, especially when hit with service reductions during strikes.

    And tell a beneficiary, who was promised a small increase in Accommodation Supplement, that was taken off her or him again once the Temporary Additional Support was reviewed after 1 April, you will have them say, ffs, I am supposed to support nurses get hefty increases, and I get NONE extra (in effect).

    This country is divided, the world is screwed up, people in Bangla Desh and so work for slave wages making our clothes, some in China work 15 hours a day to make our gadgets, and people here, no matter how professional, cannot ‘manage’ their affairs?

    That is the blunt reality, we are screwed, the whole social order needs urgent revolutionary overhaul, as it all does not function anymore, and will not lead to long term solutions the way things are done. More staff will also have to cater for more elderly, and more immigrants, as this country has not stopped immigration, has it, not even under a Labour NZ First coalition government.

  12. Marc says:

    “If the nurses are left to fight this battle on their own, however, then, sadly, there is a better than even chance that the politics of envy and resentment will prevail over the politics of solidarity.”

    Hah, when did we last have a ‘general strike’ in NZ Inc?

    While public sector workers may still have reasonably unionisation, most work forces in the various industry sectors are not, certainly not in the private sector.

    Has Chris noticed a recent rush by workers to join unions?

    I have not, let me in on something I do not know, please, as for the most it is every one on their own for their own, in most work places, it seems.

  13. Tiger Mountain says:

    the CTU has not lead an actual combined national workers industrial action since…thats right, since they failed to act decisively in 1991…

    when the Federation of Labour was the central union body of this country, up until 1987, then you would get action, with leaders like Jim Knox and Bill Andersen on television and at workers rallies, going for it, which often included the CSU (Combined State Unions) as well

    the point Chris raises is the crux–“practical leadership for practical action”, UNITE does it regularly–the NZCTU should be assisting strikes and pickets all over

  14. greg says:

    how about the work force whos jobs have been outsourced how do we get our share

  15. Marc says:

    What is the comment function for when there are no updates of comments?

  16. Janio says:

    Your argument is misleading Chris T, you focus on nurses rejecting what seems a healthy offer but they are rejecting a whole package not just part of it for the better off workers. I can’t remember the details but what’s at issue are the shittier parts of the deal for the workers who are worse off.

    I think Chris T is rehearsing another of his “real politics” lessons where he takes on a Simon Bridges position to convince us that getting stroppy is bad politics. The workers are just greedy. This won’t make the real politicians happy. It will make other less stroppy workers unhappy – bad politics all around. Thanks Chris, good to have you steering us towards timid sensible approaches to wage bargaining.

    • gsays says:

      Hi Janio, I had the feeling I was reading slightly weasly words.
      It is very rare for the median wage to be referred to unless you want to make another figure look large.
      Conversely, quoting the average wage ($70, 000 odd), as we heard non stop through the election campaign, makes the nurses claim a tad more reasonable.

  17. Quicksilver says:

    The so-called “inflation rate” or CPI is a piss-poor measurement for determining “appropriate” wage claims.
    We all know workers have been hit harder by cost increases, many of which are not proportionately reflected in the calculation of the CPI.
    Compare to someone lucky enough to have the Higher Salaries Commission decide their increase and who maybe to pay a bit more for their new yacht or Alfa Romeo….oh how sad.
    Good on the nurses, fast food workers, and anyone else who has had a gutsful. Solidarity brothers and sisters!
    The government has a choice on how it handles things. It can either present itself as genuinely worker-friendly, and thereby bolster it’s re-election chances, or cower before the wave of right wing criticism (which comes NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO) and appear weak.
    The self imposed austerity of budgetary limits was a sop to not frighten the neoliberal horses. But they’ve been in govt long enough now to see the massive campaign being waged against them, despite playing by the rules. Time to play by their own rules.
    It’s 2 minutes to midnight……..there literally isn’t much time left!

  18. countryboy says:

    While some people wring their sweaty little hands at the audacity of nurses striking for better pay and conditions the Banks make off-shore with our $-billions annually.
    Isn’t that amazing? Foreign owned banks are so enormous, they’ve become invisible. They do so much damage and their actions cause so much societal destruction here that we can’t see it for looking.
    Nurses are striking for more money. To pay for what, exactly?
    Mortgages? Insurances? Loans leveraged against higher indebtedness via mortgage draw-downs? The bank influenced rise in the overall cost’s of living?
    $500K House ( Less a deposit of $100 K ) at the current interest rate of 5.9% is 1090.00 a fortnight. Add to that rates at , say, $2500.00 a year and another $5 to $7k a year for insurances.
    Remember; NZ/AO= 30K square K’s bigger than UK but with only 4.7 mil people and rich-as in vital, exportable, food-resources.
    So’, Where’s all that money going?’ is a question you should be asking before any of you slag off nurses for trying to better their chances of a decent nights sleep.

  19. JustMe says:

    I wonder if some people will remember the massive strike action that occurred during the Muldoon years in the early 80s. Not a week seemed to go by when one group of workers or another had to go on strike demanding more pay.
    One very clever young lady whose name was Tania Harris was fed up with the strikes and so she organised a march down Aucklands Queen Street. That march attracted over 50,000 people. I saw that march and it left a lasting impact on me to this day. Be aware Muldoon did not deride the protestors by calling them ‘rent a protestor'(as John Key referred to those 50,000plus who protested against his beloved TPPA).
    What I am trying to point out here is despite a narrow minded National Party journalist in the NZ Herald claiming there were not so many strikes by workers during the most recent destructive National government years they were in office there has been in the past alot of strike action during a National government.
    If we look upon the recently past National government’s lackadaisical attitude to say Middlemore Hospital then we can figure out why there is no money to pay nurses and other medical personnel the right pay for the environment they work in.
    I voted Labour last year. If I hear that by 31.7.18 and even by 31.12.18 that every politician in the NZ parliament will be getting a backdated pay increase. For example a backdated pay increase given to MPs dating as from 31.1217 through to 31.7.18 then that will be a smack in the face for the people i.e the nurses, teachers and so many others; that deserve pay increases.
    I am not an advocate of taking strike action unless it’s totally and utterly necessary. The nurses and other medical staff and support services in the public hospitals need a decent and liveable wage. They work long hours. The work environment is often not pleasant. The nurses(and doctors)especially in the ER sections face abuse eg being spat at, vomited upon and even punched.
    The politicians are lucky buggers because they have an income that guarantees they are paid on time. They also have a security detail around them at all times so they avoid being spat at, vomited upon and even punched. The medical staff at most NZ public hospitals do not have that privilege. They have to contend with each incident and day. It’s not an easy vocation and it’s obvious not every politician in a government whether it be past or present has a clue about.
    Lets face it this way. Whilst Jonathan Coleman was wasting NZ taxpayers money on his re-electioneering campaign in last years election whilst at perhaps the same time he was courting a private company for employment how much of the money wasted on electioneering banners could have given nurses around NZ more pay???!!!!!

  20. Danyl Strype says:

    Chris says:
    > “With an experienced registered nurse’s salary set to rise from $66,755 to $77,386 by December next year under the present offer,”

    This is a rise of nearly $10,000, on top of an annual salary of more than $60,000. I just want to offer a quick reality check here. $10,000 is about what beneficiaries and students live on in a year, and keep in mind this includes people on sickness and invalids benefits who have no other options. The fact that the nurses are asking for a pay rise at all, given a salary that’s already more than 6 times what our most vulnerably people live on, reveals just how shockingly low benefits have been allowed to drop relative to the real cost of living.

    I don’t begrudge the nurses or anyone else a pay rise. Especially given that the productivity of the NZ workforce has consistently increased over the last 30 years while the proportion of the countries wealth paid as wages and salaries has fallen in real terms. But like Chris, I suspect that a pay rise that keeps their $66,755 in line with inflation would be plenty, if their working conditions were improved by addressing the understaffing.

  21. Marc says:

    Nurses and other state employees lament their lot, private immigrant ‘contractors’ employ their own little kids to ‘help them out’ doing their contractual lawn mowing and so forth:

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2018/03/13/child-labour-in-new-zealand-not-only-a-thing-of-the-past-although-not-widespread-alive-and-well-in-nz-in-2018-special-post/

    New Zealand is a fricking JOKE to outsiders and immigrants who really know what goes on!

  22. Cameron says:

    I feel I have to make a comment here. My wife is a nurse and has been working in her current job as a Registered Nurse for 12 years. She was an Enrolled Nurse previously and was in that position for 5 years. In her time at the hospital, we have seen workloads increase dramatically, staffing numbers reduced to critical levels, and responsibilities for the care of patients shifted from the qualified Enrolled Nurses to underqualified Care Associates and then on to the shoulders of Registered Nurses because they are the only ones with the skill or experience necessary to manage them.

    My wife works most shifts with no break, often without the opportunity to eat, or have a drink and returns home exhausted, often unwell as a result of the stresses and pressures of her shift, and on a number of occasions in tears because she simply cannot do the job she is asked to do on the time she has to do it. It is breaking her and others like her, and successive governments and the DHBs have done nothing to address what is now an extremely damaging work environment.

    The pay increase Nurses are seeking goes little of the way to redress years of underpayment and overworking. On a side note here; those who might complain that this is a decent offer when other professions in New Zealand aren’t getting a similar pay rise, ask yourself how often your job requires you to make life and death decisions about patients, with little or no time to make them, all at the point of exhaustion?
    This is not about equality for all, it is about an equitable pay offer for the incredibly and necessary work Nurses do.

    The alternative is that we lose all of our older, experienced nurses to burn out and exhaustion and are left with dwindling numbers of inexperienced new graduates to staff the wards.

    Wake up DHBs! Offer your workforce the kind of money you would give yourself if you had to do their job and stop giving yourselves the pay rises you dont deserve.

    Here’s another novel idea: pay our nurses what our back bench MPs get and give our MPs what Nurses get – then we’ll see who believes this offer is “fair”.

  23. Marc says:

    So revealing the truth about the state of affairs gets censored, I note, the inconvenient truth must be hidden.

  24. Marc says:

    Nurses and teachers are more or less the middle class, who have their expectations, and fight for their interests. While some of them deserve pay or salary rises, would they stand up for an increase of base benefits for the poorest, to return these to levels that existed before the 1991 cuts, that is in relation to wages and average incomes?

    Did they protest outside WINZ Offices any time, or did I miss something?

    True workers’ solidarity should encompass all industries and classes of workers, and those temporarily unable to work, or unable to work full stop due to sickness and impairments.

  25. Marc says:

    Where is the spirit of solidarity, non existent:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCIf8iK5Jzo

  26. Marc says:

    Do nurses in NZ Inc actually care about damned child labour in their own damned country, or is this below them?

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.wordpress.com/2018/03/13/child-labour-in-new-zealand-not-only-a-thing-of-the-past-although-not-widespread-alive-and-well-in-nz-in-2018-special-post/

    “UPDATE AS OF 21 JUNE 2018, HIGHLY IMPORTANT:
    The blog operator has now learned who the property manager is, who was mentioned in the post above, and who was repeatedly informed of this child labour going on by the lawn mowing contractor, and evidence we have now seen, in the way of at least two email notifications, identify the man most clearly:

    He is the following person, working for Ray White and his details are here:
    https://nz.raywhite.com/fan-yang/real-estate-agent/fy143107231/

    Also was the owner meant to have been informed, but we have no info whether that ever happened through that so called ‘property manager’, who clients tell us is as unprofessional and flawed a ‘professional’ as they may come. Help New Zealand those concerned about this country, may say.

    We understand also that the one tenant of a property concerned has been warned NOT to contact the owner, hinting serious consequences may occur/

    This is NEW ZEALAND in 2018, a land proclaimed to uphold human rights, the rule of law, democracy and much more, a land of total HYPOCRISY and many lies, not worth investing in and working in. I spoke to a few new immigrants of various back grounds recently, they all confessed to me, New Zealand is NOT what the country and government proclaim, it is a country and society of hypocrisy, lies and betrayal, many wished they had never come to this place.

    We rest our CASE.”

    To be totally honest this country better shapes up, with or without Jacinda Dear Baby or not, as you are the laughing stock of the world, with the total BS that has been going on!