NZNO's Blog


A fat lot of good?

3nN3nDmNfO-4Yesterday the Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman released his much awaited plan to combat obesity in New Zealand.

His plan focuses on childhood obesity – a good place to intervene we thought. And at first glance it all looks good, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find only half a plan. The half that involves individual responsibility; not the half that would regulate, control and fix the very things that cause obesity – the aggressive marketing of and too-easy access to high sugar, high fat foods and drinks.

That said, the plan is broad (no pun intended), with three focus areas and 22 linked initiatives. Most are not new, but they do now add up to a more coherent approach than we’ve had before.

We were hoping for a bold and effective plan. This plan does not live up to the hype. Trying to deal with a systemic and societal issue by blaming fat kids and their mothers is mean, sexist, unfair and ineffective.

Two of the main recommendations of a 2015 World Health Organisation report on childhood obesity are to impose taxes on sugary drinks and to reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy food and drink. The report gives clear guidelines about how to go about achieving these two recommendations.

Our Government has had discussions “on the role industry can play in helping to address childhood obesity. These discussions have included the possibility of voluntary industry pledges, and changes to food labelling, marketing and advertising to children.”

Hmmm. Not exactly earth-shattering. In fact, you might go so far as to wonder if the Government was trying to keep the big sugary drink and fatty food companies on-side. Big sugary drink companies and multi-national fast food companies sure don’t like having their profits threatened by countries legislating and regulating for the good of their citizens.

In fact, if the New Zealand Government did go ahead and legislate for public health it would be at great risk of being sued by those companies, under the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

So, a voluntary standard it will be – if anything happens at all. And nowhere near what the World health Organisation is recommending.

The Government’s childhood obesity plan also includes a Health Star Rating, a voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labeling system developed for use in New Zealand and Australia.

Voluntary again, you will note, and with the onus on individual shoppers to make “good” food decisions.

Schools will be encouraged to offer and promote more sport and activity, but won’t be required to provide healthy food and beverage choices. Sure, no one would argue that sport and activity isn’t a great idea – but when it’s not backed up with a wraparound healthy environment there’s only so much we will achieve.

There has already been a lot of comment on the plan, with many saying it doesn’t go far enough and others (teachers and GPs in low-income areas) saying anything is better than nothing.

I think we’d have to agree – the Minister’s plan is better than nothing and it doesn’t go far enough.

To quote NZNO principal researcher Dr Léonie Walker, “There is a need for more prominent and pressing action relating to the impacts of poverty, nutritional poverty and an industry fuelled obesogenic environment.”


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Everyone needs work security

DSC_0111By NZNO president Grant Brookes

Last week I was proud to be one of a delegation of 16 NZNO members and staff who attended the Council of Trade Unions Biennial Conference. We all had responsibilities; from running workshops to researching remits and presenting reports.

It was my job to address the remit “That unions intensify our campaigning against insecure work including seeking outcomes through collective bargaining and legislative change”.

NZNO voted in favour of this remit and here’s why.

We see the health impact of insecure and precarious work every day of our professional lives. We see it affecting our patients and some of us experience it ourselves.

  • When we don’t know how long a job will last,
  • when we don’t have any control over when we work, or for how long,
  • when our pay is low or fluctuates,
  • when there’s no chance to upskill,
  • when there’s no union representation,
  • when there’s no protection against discrimination and
  • when things are unfair and we know we could lose our job without good reason –

That’s insecure work

The World Health Organisation says, “The global dominance of precarious work, with its associated insecurities, has contributed significantly to poor health and health inequities.”

If you were asked to imagine a person in precarious work in New Zealand today, chances are you’ll think of someone like a young McDonalds worker on a zero hours contract. Sadly, precarious and insecure work is widespread.

The aged care sector is another area where rising work insecurity is an issue.

In August, a residential aged care provider in Christchurch tried to change the roster so that no one was guaranteed more than 28 hours a week, with no fixed shifts.

Here are some of the messages NZNO members sent to the manager about what the proposal would mean for them and the residents they care for.

“I feel very stressed and extremely worried about my future, because of this roster change. This clearly means I will lose my working hours, and a rotating roster will make it difficult to catch up with friends because you don’t know one month or two months earlier what your schedule will look like. A big worry for me is I may not be able to pay all my expenses – rent, food, petrol etc. The only option is to pick up shifts, but there is no guarantee for everybody.”

“The proposal will not give me enough hours per week, which makes it really hard for me to pay off my bills. I am on a work visa at the moment. I need a full-time job to renew my visa, not a part-time job. As it is unsure when is my day off, it makes it hard for me to make plans for my family events.”

“Staff will be forced to leave if the changes occur, as management’s proposal will affect each staff member’s earnings. They can easily hire new staff, but the service which the old staff rendered to our beloved people will be affected, as new staff will need to do a lot to know more about the old people’s routine.”

“The company has a policy of ‘person-centred care’. It’s a great shame that this does not extend to its staff. I feel like a cog in the wheel of the machine, just a name on a roster to fill a slot, not a valued, 15-year experienced employee.”

Insecure work is also coming to District Health Boards.

The West Coast District Health Board is currently consulting on a proposal that will affect all nursing staff. If it goes ahead, the proposal could require any member of the nursing team to work in any service, in any role, no matter their specialty or the distance they might need to travel to get there – and don’t forget how big the West Coast is! Nurses could be travelling for hours.

Meanwhile, the three Lower North Island DHBs want to hire nursing staff to work across DHB boundaries. This could see nurses employed by one DHB directed to work in a neighbouring DHB. That’s a really insecure place of work!

The good news is that the roster changes at the Christchurch facility were withdrawn, thanks to the union member’s submissions. Proposals for staff to work across DHB boundaries in the Lower North Island are still under discussion with NZNO and the PSA, and have not been implemented. And we remain optimistic that working in partnership with West Coast DHB will see nurses retaining security around their employment there.

Where unions are present in a workplace, we can often reverse trends towards insecure work.

But the reality is that people in the most precarious employment, who experience the greatest health effects from insecure work, are outside the coverage of collective bargaining and union organising,

So if unions are to campaign against insecure work, which is contributing significantly to poor health and health inequities, the emphasis will have to be on seeking outcomes through legislative change.

This is where NZNO can – and will – join together with our sisters and brothers in the wider union movement to make positive change for all.



To the awesome nurse with the pink hair

Kai Tiaki Nursing NZLouisa Davies is a registered nurses, NZNO member and mum.  She is proud to stand up for her colleagues.

Louisa says she wrote this because she had a bit much time on her hands and was feeling really worked up about the situation. Personally, I doubt whether people who are mums, RNs and advocates for fairness ever have “a bit much time on their hands” but I’m thankful Louisa found the time to pen this lovely note to the “awesome nurse with the pink hair”! 

To the awesome nurse with the pink hair! You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but I would just like to take the time to say, “I’m sorry”.

I’m sorry that you have been judged and bullied, I’m sorry that one of the proudest moments of your nursing career, a cover page of our national nursing magazine, has been stripped down by your peers. I’m sorry that your peers have covered their bullying, by focusing their tirade against NZNO, for putting you on their cover, as though this reduces their bullying on you. I sincerely hope that you have broad enough shoulders to brush off these people who feel the need so strongly to comment about you, and realise that they are probably suffering from tall poppy syndrome.

We used to call each other “sister”, (sorry male fraternity) we are predominantly a female workforce, we should not be shooting each other down, but we should be lifting each other up, and celebrating each other’s achievements.

I imagine this nurse probably works pretty hard, probably has been covered in human excrement, just like the rest of us. Probably has spent overtime filling in her documentation, just like the rest of us.

She could probably teach many of us a thing or a thousand about critical care nursing, and she still wouldn’t have taught us all that she knows. The way she has been treated is horrible. She deserves much better than that, and all of those who have been opinionated enough to comment about it should be ashamed. Would you say this to her face?? If not, it is trolling. If you would say it to her face, then you truly are a bully.

Hair colour, piercing, tattoos… None of these make us less than amazing nurses, they do not affect our abilities to care for our patients, their families and our colleagues. They make us real humans, with life outside of the hospital, and our own creative spirits shining through just a little bit.

Be proud nurse Pinky!!! You look beautiful, you look capable and skilled as the wonderful nurse that you are. Frame that cover, and remind yourself every day that you are way better than the people who are pulling you down. Keep up the hard work Sister.