Kerri Nuku, Kaiwhakahaere
Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa NZNO
I was fortunate enough to have caught up with a couple of nursing whānau and my kuia recently. Dedicated to her work, the kuia has reduced her hours now, after all she is 79 years young.
As we sat down to for a chat, her concerns for the future were marked not only with the words she spoke but the tiredness in her eyes and anguish on her face. Nan has been an advocate and at the centre of many political actions in her times, including being the mediator between the whānau and hospital with our now infamous Hawke’s Bay child uplift case.
Her mokopuna who live with her are “an absolute joy” and, together with work they keep her going. But her fears for the future, especially herald a warning that poverty, social challenges and complexities are complicating health. We need to think differently to respond to the changing health demands, she cautioned.
Nan has walked through many changes to the health sector, but this time it’s different – her concerns are for the mokopuna and their future.
She is not alone in her views. The media is speculating a difficult year ahead, and there is no doubt that the unrelenting social, economic and political pressures are making it difficult to find the rainbow or look for the silver lining as the unpredictability of our economic future hangs in the balance.
This gave me more cause to reflect on my responsibilities as a mother, grandmother and worker, and our contributions as the largest female dominated union and professional organisation in Aotearoa to her story and what must be different as we approach the year ahead.
Our organisation has held the view of political neutrality and in the past, we have gone to great lengths to ensure nonpartisanism. Our history, including the New Zealand Trained Nurses Association, New Zealand Nurses Association (NZNA) and our organisation as we are known today NZNO Toputanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa. Professional, social, economic and industrial interests of nurses are the common purpose across our evolution, but our history highlights our struggles between industrial and professional identity within a female dominated workforce and our strength and political awareness.
We have a rich history of active protection, but perhaps one of our most defining moments was in 1973, when Margaret Bazley (who would go on to be the first female State Services Commissioner and receive the Order of New Zealand) declared that “the days of exploitation are over… If our tradition of serving patients is to be maintained, then the welfare of our nurses must be put first and foremost by the association”. By 1986 nurses’ protests over conditions and wages – the greatest distress cry of nursing in this country – caused the association a few years later to give strike notice as part of a successful “Nurses are worth more” campaign.
However, it would take almost 30 years before the country would see further strike action of that size, but it came frustratingly after almost 10 years of government underfunding of DHBs for us to act.
This year we have had further strikes and issued more provisional improvement notices than ever before. Each one, regardless of size, builds on the collective voice of the last and sends the consistent message. While we have been successful over several areas, claims in the Waitangi Tribunal, Pay Equity although still to be resolved we have stood resolute in our challenge: Pay Parity, expansion to include fast track to residency, inclusion on the workforce taskforce and expanding role of enrolled nurses. We have not won the war for every nurse everywhere; we still have work to do.
Whatever our position is next year, there is no doubt that we must ensure health is one of the election priorities. We must be effective in raising and using our collective power, raising our political voice and making our presence felt.
“He tawhiti kē to tātou haerenga ki te kore e haere tonu, he tino nui rawa ta tātou mahi ki te kore e mahi tonu – We have come too far not to go further, we have done too much not to do more”. Sir James Henare