With negotiations concluded for this round of the DHB MECA, NZNO members are faced with an offer being recommended by the bargaining team. Reading comments from the NZNO facebook page, there is an overwhelming sense that members are extremely unhappy with the current offer on the table. This comes after many members were sold the previous 2015–2017 MECA, with the promise of a better agreement this time round. Members were told during the previous negotiating round that what was achieved was the best that could be hoped for through bargaining, while under tight financial constraints and a national government.
One of the biggest selling points of the previous MECA was the shorter term of the agreement. This meant that the next (current) round of negotiations would fall just before the general election. Lesley Harry, the industrial advisor for NZNO and one of the lead negotiators of the DHB MECAs, reflected on this clearly in an email bulletin to NZNO members in August 2015, saying that accepting the previous offer
…was advantageous, as would mean this round of negotiations would fall when most politicians are eager to please, during an election.
NZNO members might be forgiven for missing this aspect of NZNO’s bargaining strategy, if in fact it was used at all. With the general election been and gone, did NZNO use this stated bargaining tool? From the outside looking in, it wouldn’t appear so. There was a change of government, yet this offer is still being recommended, and members are rightly unimpressed. Having been sold a dead rat in the last MECA, members were expecting more from their bargaining team.
Healthcare, specifically underfunding, short-staffing and mental health was made a critical election issue through the imaginative and highly visual Yes We Care campaign. NZNO’s vague and confusing shout out for health campaign was eclipsed both in scope and breadth by Yes We Care. The ‘shout out for health’ campaign also made no reference to the DHB MECA being negotiated. Members who helped or supported both campaigns could rightly be expected to believe this momentum would be capitalised on. But no. Instead members are being sold another dead rat of a deal that doesn’t go far enough in addressing short-staffing, underfunding, and inadequate remuneration.
In a blog piece from 2015, NZNO blogged:
Nurses, midwives, caregivers and other health care workers are telling us they are already stretched to the limit. Some are having to sacrifice tea and lunch breaks and are working unpaid overtime just to keep up with the care they need to give to ensure needs of patients are met. Support for training and development is decreasing. Stress levels are rising and morale is low.
Fast forward to 2017, has this situation changed? Looking at the comments from members, messaging from the Yes We Care and ‘shout out for health’ campaigns, and from HSWN members experience, this is a resounding no. If anything, the situation is worse. Healthcare work is getting harder and more demanding each year. So members expected more from this round of negotiations, and this current offer doesn’t cut it. There needs to be real advances in the recognition of the work of Nurses, Healthcare Assistants and Midwives carry out everyday. This is the moment for real changes.
All the cards should be on the table. NZNO should not shy away from industrial action, whatever form that may take. Other unions do not mince words when it comes to bargaining. The recent settlement with the public transport workers shows how effective industrial action is at pushing for the changes we want and need. The fact that NZNO won’t even entertain the idea of industrial action puts us in a weaker position during negotiations, and the DHB negotiating side exploits this. From inadequate pay increases, to erosion of working conditions, vague wording around implementing CCDM, and lack of back pay — these agreements show we are being taken advantage of.
Workers can and should expect better. Telling us to lower our expectations or settle for less than we are worth is not going to cut it anymore. This is an opportunity to push for more in this current political climate. So to borrow and slightly amend a recent popular political slogan, “Let’s actually do this”
Health Sector Workers Network