As most readers of this blog will already know, I’ve resigned as NZNO President. I am returning to nursing at the coal face. Since announcing my resignation four days ago, I’ve been contacted by many NZNO members who feel let down by NZNO and asked for my thoughts on their options.
As nurses, we all have leadership responsibilities – in advocating for our patients and the health of our communities, for example, or in maintaining public trust and confidence in our profession. Our leadership responsibilities don’t end just because we don’t have a formal title.
For the last four and a half years, I have led NZNO. I’m not someone to suddenly walk away from my responsibilities. So to the many NZNO members who asked and anyone else who may be interested, I offer these thoughts.
Which professional organisation? Which union?
I believe nurses need to come together. We need to join organisations, so that our collective voice is strong enough to achieve our professional aspirations and to uphold our rights to fairness at work. Joining together like this, for me, is an expression of solidarity.
In our current union and professional association, NZNO, there are so many good people, doing good work. NZNO has some amazing organisers, educators, advocates, professional nurse advisors and volunteers in our Colleges and Sections. They have fantastic call advisors just a phone call away, and of course hundreds of amazing workplace delegates who keep the union thriving in your workplaces. Every day, these great people dedicate themselves to supporting the fee-paying members of NZNO.
But as well as supporting members, NZNO chooses to do other things that are squarely against the interests the membership. Some members will have their own experiences. Mine was a particularly brutal and quarter million-dollar personalised legal pursuit.
For me, it makes no sense at all to keep paying $46.10 a month to help fund this kind of activity.
As a Mental Health Nurse in Wellington, I am fortunate. There’s another union I can join – one with bonds of solidarity to the wider union movement through the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi, and which is big and powerful enough to negotiate nationwide collective agreements and effectively advocate for a better working life for its members.
So, like many of the Mental Health Nurses and HCAs at my new job, I have decided to switch to the New Zealand Public Service Association – Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi. The legal window for changing onto the PSA MECA opens at the start of June, 60 days before the expiry of the NZNO MECA. I hope more DHB colleagues will join us in our new union home. Together we are stronger.
But at the same time, I know that other nurses are not so fortunate. And because solidarity means not just looking after yourself, but standing together for the benefit of all, I will be staying with NZNO as well.
NZNO allows dual union membership, offering a reduced fee of $17.60 a month for any member of another union affiliated to CTU. Taking up this offer means I can avoid paying big money to fund wasteful or destructive activity. Yet I’ll still be able to participate collectively in my professional organisation, the Mental Health Nurses Section, get indemnity insurance and receive the real New Zealand nursing story monthly in Kai Tiaki.
And it will mean I can continue fighting alongside you, as best I can in my new full-time job, to take back our union for the members. I know not all of you will want to do this. I won’t judge any nurse for the choice they make. But if you want to stay and be part of this project, you can connect with me on social media or via email.
In broad terms, our fight is to make NZNO genuinely membership-driven and bicultural.
The starting point is a complete overhaul of NZNO’s broken democratic structures. You may have seen some recent claims about NZNO’s democracy and transparency. But sadly, claims of being democratic and transparent don’t stand up.
Take a look at the system of voting for hugely important decisions, like removing an elected President. If one looks closely, and a few at the top are hoping you don’t, you can see a system that’s actively anti-democratic and shrouded in secrecy.
Here’s a quick overview:
- The NZNO Constitution allows “representatives” to vote on behalf of members. These representatives get the number of votes equal to the number of members in the group they’re representing.1 This means you can have one rep casting the vote for 15,000 members.
- The largest five membership groups comprise over half of the membership, meaning just five representatives could make a “majority” decision for all of NZNO.
- Yet, there is no requirement for the “representatives” to consult or follow the wishes of the membership they’re voting on behalf of, and no way for members to know how their representatives even voted on their behalf, because it’s “secret”.2
And the kicker? Eleven of these reps, who wield two thirds of the membership vote, aren’t even elected by their members.3
As you can imagine, an unelected handful casting a secret votes is an open invitation to corruption. It’s also a pretty rotten system that so few can make a decision that’s paraded around as a democratic decision of themembership. There is a lot more still to come out about how this system produced the results of last year’s SGMs.
Hopefully you can understand why I pushed, as President, for a review of NZNO’s Constitution and membership structures. I did it at NZNO Regional Conventions. I did it in Kai Tiaki – more than once. And I did it at the Board table.
It wasn’t for me to say what should be done about Ngā Ture, the rules of Te Rūnanga. That has to be done by members of Te Rūnanga themselves.
A Constitutional review was finally agreed by the Board last December. The terms of reference for this review were to be presented at this year’s NZNO AGM. Not that I expect this will happen now.
If a review does eventually go ahead, it will be directed by entrenched interests that created the Constitution and defend it to this day. So our fight to make NZNO membership-driven and bicultural, through a new Constitution, will also be a battle to dislodge those entrenched interests.
What about biculturalism?
I believe that for NZNO to succeed in genuinely belonging to members, both the democratic structures and the practice of partnership need to be genuine.
Genuine partnership under Te Tiriti o Waitangi is one which expresses the ideals of reciprocity and of mutual benefit, where we act reasonably, honourably, and in good faith. Members need this genuine partnership to be rooted in living relationships at the base of our organisation, not just in remote figureheads and fine words on paper. And both parties to the relationship, NZNO and Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa NZNO, must be driven by members from the bottom up, not controlled from the top down.
Achieving this won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. But for me, this is where those of us staying with NZNO need to go.
We’ve made a start already. NZNO today is a more membership-driven organisation. We have more tools at our disposal. Let’s join together and finish the job. I know we can do it – because we are many, and they are few.
2 Since 2014 voting at AGMs and SGMs has been done electronically and in secret. So members never find out how their “representative” voted.
3 Some NZNO member groups, like Colleges and Sections, have autonomy to develop their own internal processes. But for the eleven NZNO Regional Councils, whose rules are set by Schedule Seven of the Constitution, the “representatives” who wield two thirds of the membership vote at an SGM aren’t elected by the members they represent
Grant Brookes is a Nurse, Trade Unionist & NZNO Past President