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International Women’s Day 2016

2016 Womens DayBy our representative on the CTU Women’s Council, Erin Kennedy and organiser, Georgia Choveaux.

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. Like much of what is good in the world, this day was bought to you by women who had the courage and conviction to demand fairness and dignity in their community and workplaces. They were, of course, union women. So today, we look back to see just how far we union women have advanced fairness and dignity in our community. We also let you know, we union women have not finished yet!

International Women’s Day honours the struggles of women worldwide, and originated with a strike by garment workers in New York in 1857. The strikers, who were seeking better working conditions and a 10-hour day, were broken up by the police. Fifty-one years later, on 8 March 1908, needles trades workers marched again, honouring the 1857 strikers and calling for an end to sweatshops and child labour.

At the same time New Zealand union women were fighting battles of their own. An early battle New Zealand women won was the right to choose to work. Not everyone was quite as clever as our early union sisters; many thought a woman’s place was exclusively in the home. In 1890 Dr Stenhouse of Dunedin cautioned against women working, even noting that women working led to vice.

“The tendency of overwork is unquestionably to lead to vice. The health is reduced and when the constitution is enfeebled the mind is not so able to resist temptation in any form.”   

While women won the right to work, the idiotic view that a woman’s place was primarily in the home kept women’s wages artificially low and locked women out of certain industries entirely. It did this by creating the idea that it was only important that men’s wages could support a family. This devastated women’s wages: up until World War Two New Zealand women earned half of what men did.

But again courageous union women campaigned tirelessly to have their skills fairly remunerated. They won the Government Services Act 1960 and the Equal Pay Act 1972. Their victories have bumped up working women’s pay significantly. But we are not there yet.  According to Statistics NZ, for every dollar men aged between 25 and 64 earn today, women made just under 86 cents. Yet here again, unions and union wāhine are fighting to address this inequity.

Aged care worker and hero Kristine Bartlett, backed by her union, E tū,   lodged a successful equal pay claim against her employer TerraNova, arguing that aged care bosses were breaching the Equal Pay Act 1972 by not paying her for the skills of her job; rather they were paying her gender. The Government has now set up a working group to develop principles for dealing with claims under the Act, and legal cases filed by E tū and the New Zealand Education Institute are on hold till the end of this month, when the working group is due to present its principles.

The legal acknowledgement that the insultingly low wages in traditional female dominated occupations are unlawful is a huge victory and one that will smash the historic hangover women’s wages have been suffering from. Union wāhine will be leading this work and leading these wins. Which is exactly where we they belong, and have been for the last hundred and fifty years.

So here’s to union wāhine  – fighting the good fight since forever!

 


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Mask up or ship out?!

maskThe issue of vaccinations and the flu vaccination in particular has been on our agenda over the past few months, as it has been for the sector.  In 2015, despite improved uptake of the flu vaccination amongst DHB employees, one DHB (Waikato) has still taken a punitive approach to non vaccinated staff, insisting they wear masks when in direct patient contact or risk suspension and disciplinary procedures.

We felt at this time it might be appropriate to discuss the role of NZNO in this matter. Amongst our membership we have the full spectrum from those passionately in favor of vaccinations, to those equally against.  So should the union even have a view and if so on what basis?

So starting with the right not to be vaccinated – we all have that right.  Being injected against our will is assault, pure and simple.  In addition, when in receipt of healthcare, everyone is covered by the HDC Code of (patient) Rights.  This provides for the right to informed consent and the right to say “no”.  It also provides for the right to be treated with respect.  Given one role of NZNO is the legal protection of member’s rights, enforcing the right not to be vaccinated goes without question.

The issue of vaccination largely comes down to an individual view (I do or do not wish to be vaccinated because I…) or a collective one.  On the latter, there is both a public health good derived from vaccinations and an employment one. The former relates to the reduced spread of disease and therefore harm, especially amongst those in our communities who are most vulnerable, and the latter, lack of staff to treat the sick due to staff themselves being sick. And yes for the DHBs fewer sick days and so less cost, is attractive.

Evidence confirms that whilst not a perfect remedy, vaccination is the best mechanism we have to prevent the spread of disease and the human toll that disease represents. Herd immunity, where vaccination rates are high enough to stem the spread of disease and therefore protect a community, is the goal.

The flu vaccine is not 100% effective. Each year the vaccine must be reconstituted to capture the new strains of flu that emerge.  The flu virus is a nasty little beast that genetically morphs from year to year, hence its success as an organism!  As impressive as this may be, lets not forget, it also kills. Regardless of your view on vaccination, this virus is not the common cold we can all expect to suffer most years.  It is a serious and life threatening virus that has caused millions to die.

When the unions and DHBs (in the forum known as NBAG) collectively came together to investigate the issue what became clear was that a positive, educative and supportive approach to the issue of vaccinations was far more successful than punitive, threatening or negative.  If the overall motivation is community good through protection from disease, having people “on board” is going to more effective than the resistance a negative approach inevitably engenders.  This is not so much about vaccinations per se, but about how we approach the issue.

Acknowledging that employees can’t be required to be vaccinated, what about the DHBs ability to decide what to do with the non vaccinated staff?  In fairness NBAG didn’t even go there (at that time).  We agreed a positive and constructive approach was better and looked (amongst other things) to whether the unions had a role in leadership on this issue, thereby in effect avoiding a negative reaction that some DHBs might have in the face of non vaccination. The answer was yes: better to keep members out of trouble whilst recognising everyone has rights.

NBAG put out guidelines to the DHBs supporting a positive and educative approach, rather than punitive. And the unions agreed to support engagement with members on this issue.

So far so good. Unions avoided the punitive and inevitably adversarial approach DHBs might take against members: DHBs got our support on the vaccination process.

Interestingly, for all the concerns expressed by the DHBs, the uptake of vaccination by management was no different from the rest of the staff, confirming that we are dealing with a wider and more intrinsic issue than superficial review might suggest.

So why did Waikato DHB ignore NBAG advice and fail to engage with us on the issue?

Well Waikato DHB has an already evidenced poor culture when it comes to employee engagement, so probably no surprises there. It is sad, but this DHB continues to have a poor attitude towards their own employees on a number of fronts, including bullying.  And again, regardless of their personal views about vaccination, members have been almost universally concerned at how Waikato DHB is handling this matter.

We have made an application to the Employment Relations Authority to test the DHB’s policy on the basis of a failure to adequately consult prior to implementation. Not only is the issue of ignoring considered national advice on the matter concerning, a whole lot of other issues have arisen that, had proper consultation occurred, would probably have been worked through.  And these issues do need to be resolved, including:

  • What is “direct patient contact”?
  • How effective is mask wearing, including how often we need to change masks to be effective?
  • What of the effect on patient – staff communication through a mask?
  • Distribution of personal health information (vaccination status is health information).
  • What of patient and visitor vaccination status? Visitors can equally spread the virus (remembering the flu is communicable up to 14 days prior to symptoms emerging) so what is the point of just concentrating on staff?
  • If the patient is vaccinated, should the staff member have to wear a mask?
  • If such a public health issue, consistent application of measures are surely required? If that means short staffed areas being left without staff and services interrupted as a result, what is the balance between non vaccinated staff on duty and no service?

We could go on….  Waikato DHB’s approach is also causing resistance amongst staff, and could be self defeating. It is also exacerbating a prevalent negative culture in this DHB which is corrosive, damaging to staff and in need of change all issues of concern to us and our members.

So in summary:  Why are we involved?

  • Because members have rights and we are tasked legally with preserving those rights.
  • Because we also have a role to play in avoiding conflict and progressing matters on an evidence based and reasonable basis.
  • Because Union leadership is evidenced as being instrumental in assisting with positive change on issues such as this (and our own experience supports this).
  • Because at the end of the day our members want what is in the interests of not just themselves but their patients and communities. However as with most things in health, this is a more complex issue than a superficial glance might suggest, and we need to do the best we can to get it right.


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The greatest threat to human health

personal protective equipmentNew campaigns adviser, Jenn Lawless and I were talking about NZNO’s recent submission on climate change and some of the many ways climate change will affect health in New Zealand/Aotearoa and the world. Jenn then went and wrote this scenario – she calls it a best case scenario; some of us are more hopeful. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

You have woken up in the future. The year is 2115, and you are getting ready to go to your nursing job at Auckland Central Island hospital.

5:00am Rise out of your sleeping pod you share with 25 other Critical Core Workers (CCW) so that you can catch the circular ferry as it stops in at the Southern Auckland Islands that used to be known as Mangere before the great Greenland Ice sheet collapse. You’re lucky you’re a CCW so you can stay in on the Southern Auckland Island so close to Central Island; if you were an unskilled worker or climate refugee you’d be stuck on the far Western Islands where there’s no daily ferry if there’s energy shortages.

7:00am Arrive at work and receive your morning food portion. Because of all the salt water getting into the soil and the summer cyclones there is never enough food for everyone. CCW’s get a basic nutrition package as part of their job. A regular part of your day is treating a variety of difficult health problems because of malnutrition, especially in children.

7:15am You are sent down to Refugee Arrivals for your first shift and jump on the medical barge. There isn’t space to dock all of the rickety ships from climate refugees or unload the undocumented families without land-passes or citizenship, so it’s a case of providing emergency relief on the water. Dehydration from months of dangerous travel at sea is the most common problem, but you can’t get onto the refugee ships- despite your full-body suit, the risk of unknown epidemic diseases to an already fragile population is too great.

12:30pm You recycle your haz-suit and get a few minutes of delicious cool in the air-conditioned Central Island staff lounge. At the same time you take your regular scan for skin cancer and cataracts– a real problem now with depleted ozone.

1:pm You get a call for overload help from General Population Medical. Lots of Land-Pass holders there have been waiting all morning and they are angry that refugees are getting any medical treatment at all when there is such a shortage of medicine and basic supplies. Because of the Oceanic Fresh-Water Wars, getting any medicine we can’t produce in New Zealand can take months by boat, to get around the no-sail and heavily pirated areas. You spend the afternoon doing what you can to treat the malaria, dengue fever, heat-stress and other tropical diseases with basic symptom management until the next medical supply ship gets through. Education about mosquito nets and natural repellent is just as important as treatment, but there is not much you can do about the malnutrition transfers from Northland. Expensive treatments like dialysis are out of the question; but patients might be lucky enough to win the 3D printed kidney lottery granted twice a year.

6:pm Passing back through the armed exit to Medical and Nutrition, you feel so lucky to be a CCW, but also sad about what more you could do for your patients if you had the resources that the Global-Pass holders have hoarded. It’s true they seem to keep everything running for the Land-Pass holders like yourself but you’re sure it didn’t used to be this unequal in the past…back in the Democracy. They were so lucky. But nobody saw this coming then. Did they?

The World Health Organisation has described climate change as ‘the greatest threat to human health this century’ and that 250,000 more people will die every year between 2030 and 2050. This imagined future is based on risks outlined in the recent New Zealand Nurses Organisation submission to ‘Setting New Zealand’s post-2020 climate change target’ run by the Ministry for the Environment.

 


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Unmasking the evidence

Coughs_and_Sneezes_Spread_Diseases_Art.IWMPST14133Many DHBs have been talking about forcing staff who don’t get the flu vaccination to wear masks.

It’s one of those things that on first glance might seem like a good idea, but peel back a few layers and you’re left with the bitter taste of a purely punitive measure.

NZNO acknowledges the right of every person to vaccinate or not. We encourage it, of course; to the extent that we pay for our own staff to get the flu vaccination if they choose to. Healthy workplaces are a priority. We believe education and access are key to improving uptake but we do not think mandatory vaccination is the way forward.

DHBs want safe environments for their staff and patients too and we applaud that. What we’re saying is the DHBs are grabbing onto a “solution” that’s not evidence-based and seems to be designed to shame individuals rather than keep staff and patients safe from the flu.

We do not support the use of face masks to protect patients from unimmunised nurses.

For one thing, masks don’t work. Evidence shows masks are ineffective in protecting healthcare workers from patients with flu; so why do DHBs think the opposite would be different?

For another – a nurse with the flu would only be able to pass it on to a patient or colleague if he or she was at work. Nurses should not be working, or be made to feel that they should have to be at work, when they are sick. DHBs need to make sure enough staff are available to cover the inevitable rise in sick leave during “flu season”.

And it’s not just nurses. There must be clear information for patients, staff, contractors and visitors that sick people should stay away.

DHBs should also be promoting good hand washing and the use of tissues for coughs and sneezes.

Our motto is “Freed to care, proud to nurse” and we want that for every single NZNO member. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call if you are being treated unfairly 0800 28 38 48.

Here is NZNO principal researcher, Dr Léonie Walker’s analysis of the evidence for and against masks to protect against flu.

Health care workers have long relied heavily on surgical masks to provide protection against influenza and other infections. Yet there are no convincing scientific data that support the effectiveness of masks for respiratory protection. The masks we use are not designed for such purposes, and when tested, they have proved to vary widely in filtration capability, allowing penetration of aerosol particles ranging from 4 to 90%1.

The efficacy of any respiratory device depends on user compliance. Workers’ tolerance for wearing most types of respiratory protective devices is poor and often declines over the course of a work shift; in one study, no more than 30% of workers tolerated these devices consistently throughout an 8-hour workday, citing difficulties with speaking and communication, discomfort, and other physical problems2.

The Institute of Medicine committee has recommended that current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for respiratory protection be maintained3. Until more data are available, the Institute of Medicine committee recommended the use of personally fitted, N95 respirator when confronting patients with influenza-like illnesses, particularly in enclosed spaces4.

1Oberg T, Brosseau LM. Surgical mask filter and fit performance. Am J Infect Control (2008);36:276-282

2Radonovich LJ Jr, Cheng J, Shenal BV,Hodgson M, Bender BS. (2009) Respirator tolerance in health care workers. JAMA ;301:36-38

3www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidelines_infection_control.htm.

4Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., Bonnie Rogers, Dr.P.H., R.N., and Lewis R. Goldfrank, M.D (2009) Novel H1N1 Influenza and Respiratory Protection for Health Care Workers N Engl J Med 361:1823-1825”

 


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All the way for fairness, justice, value and equal pay

Film-Colour-160Yesterday the Government announced that on 1 April the minimum wage will increase by 50 cents to $14.75 an hour.

A 50 cent increase in the minimum wage is a shame on our whole society. As the Council of Trade Unions says, we are now in a situation where the minimum wage is also the maximum wage for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Workers in aged care, who are underpaid because the work they do is seen as “women’s work”, are being unfairly impacted by this poverty-wage. Caregiver roles are physically and emotionally exhausting with many caregivers going above and beyond what is required.

There is a huge injustice happening here. Aged care workers are bearing the brunt of unfair gender-based pay rates, and a Government minimum wage rate that seems designed to increase poverty and hardship.

Aged care workers are providing care to residents that is worth much, much more than they are getting paid. The residents benefit, the employers benefit and the workers don’t.

Oh, I am sure they are “valued” for what they do. Every time I hear a Government Minister or Rest home owner talking about the aged care workforce they talk about the incredibly important and valuable work aged care workers do. To their shame, it’s a value that is not being reciprocated with an appropriate pay rate.

NZNO and SFWU members have been working for justice for aged care workers and others in low-paid jobs for many years. We have negotiated collective agreement, lobbied successive Governments, and worked together with other groups and organisations who care deeply about fairness and equality, like we do.

A big leap forward in our struggle came at the end of last year when union member Kristine Bartlett won her equal pay court case. The next step is for the employment court to decide what the monetary value of equal pay is. When that happens we expect aged care workers around the country to benefit enormously.

We’re going All the way for equal pay and we’re going to win. This pathetic increase in the minimum wage won’t slow us down – every injustice just strengthens our resolve. Watch this space.

 

 


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Women working for free

 181452_10151675081935992_1023129958_nGeorgia Choveaux is the StandUp representative on the CTU Women’s Council and an organiser at NZNO. She wrote this yesterday – the day women in New Zealand started working for free.

Today I’m furious.

I’m furious because from today for the rest of the year New Zealand Women are working for free.

Hold on one moment … I will explain.

Right, so based on the average hourly wage rates for men and women, women earn on average 14.1 percent less a year.*  Yes 14.1 percent less. In other words New Zealand women work 51 days a year and don’t get paid for it. And our 51 days start today.

Now before you even go there, let me set you straight. The pay difference can’t be explained away with a difference in qualifications or education. Research undertaken by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in 2010 showed a 6 percent gender pay gap for graduate starting salaries. So the gender pay gap often begins with a woman’s first job, irrespective of the field or education level. I was so angry about the fact I would be paid less than a male graduating with the same degree I wore a moustache to my graduation. I’m not even kidding.

But that is just the start of the pay inequity journey I, as a newly graduating woman, will experience. According to the same Ministry of Women’s Affair’s research, within five years the gender pay gap for graduate starting salaries will increase to a  substantial gap of 17 percent. Now that is a whole new level of irritation.

So anyway, today I’m inviting you to get angry about the gender pay gap.

But I’m also telling you there is hope. Kristine Bartlett won a stunning victory in the Court of Appeal just two weeks ago which could smash one of the reasons our gender pay gap is so disgraceful. Kristine Bartlett, with the support of SFWU and NZNO, won for all New Zealand woman a ruling which confirms  there is legal obligation to ensure equal pay for work of equal value and that  means that as well as women getting the same pay as men for the same job, women should get the same pay as men for doing a different but comparable job – that is, a job involving comparable skills, years of training, responsibility, effort and working conditions.

Finally, I’m inviting you to take action.

Support the campaign for equal pay here www.facebook.com/Allthewayforequalpay

And make sure you always belong to a union, because the same good folk who bought you many of the employment rights we take for granted today are fighting hard for equal pay and together we will win.

 *No really have a look I didn’t make this stuff up Statistics New Zealand report on it every quarter here http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/income-and-work/Income/NZIncomeSurvey_HOTPJun14qtr.aspx

** Also worth noting it is the average hourly rate we are comparing not annual earnings so the fact that women are disproportionately in part-time or casualised employment doesn’t explain away this shocking figure.

 

 

 


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Our health, our taonga

233_Hui_a_Tau233

Inspired attendees at the Indigenous Nurses Aotearoa conference 2014

Kerri Nuku is NZNO’s kaiwhakahaere and is of Ngāti Kahungunu descent. As a leader for Māori within NZNO she sees it as her responsibility to ensure that equity is achieved for all Te Rūnanga members.

The other day someone asked me what the highlight of my year has been so far. Usually that kind of question causes me to ponder for a while, but not this year. The absolute highlight of my year is the very first Indigenous Nurses Aotearoa conference, held in Tāmaki Makaurau in August.

The theme for the conference was “Our health, our taonga”, which really resonated with me – as I sense it did with every other attendee. We were stimulated and challenged in our collective responsibility to protect our fundamental right to good health and wellbeing.

It was so energising to be with over 250 indigenous nursing leaders, including nurses, midwives, nursing students, kaimahi hauora and health care assistants. Our combined enthusiasm and commitment to make sure health is a taonga was infectious. It is a privilege of our te ao Māori (Māori worldview) that we see health/hauora as a part of our whakapapa, our whanau, our environment and our culture.

As indigenous nursing professionals, we are committed to reaffirming our rights under the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous people’s article 3, to self determine, and this must underpin any future Māori nursing strategy. We must have faith in ourselves and be courageous in our aspirations for the health of our whānau, hapū and iwi. We must look towards the imagination place to see what could be.

We honour our early Māori nursing pioneers, like Te Akenehi Hei, who halted the death of Māori from introduced diseases. We have nothing to fear as we move into the future – our tipuna made sacrifices and we will too, so that our mokopuna, whānau, hapū and iwi receive the best health care available in Aotearoa.

As indigenous health professionals, we must have the freedom to determine what is best for us.

We will continue to advocate for Māori nursing and workforce issues. We will lobby for change and challenge the barriers that are placed in the way of Māori nursing and workforce success.

Kaimahi hauora:  be brave, take action when you can! Ko te kai ā te rangatira he kōrero!

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

 

Click here for more information about Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa, NZNO.