Health worker silence due to Employment Relations Act?

The ‘decision makers’ representing NZNO should reconsider their strategy. Following increasing questions over “Why is NZNO not in the media?” this ‘MECA offer FAQ’ was released (pictured here). Health Sector Workers Network take a different perspective.

What does the law say?

The Code of good faith for public health sector is an additional part of the Employment Relations Act 2000. It sets out some additional guidelines for how unions and employers in the public health sector should interrelate on employment matters (i.e. collective bargaining). The purpose is “to promote productive employment relationships in the public health sector” and “to develop, maintain, and provide high quality public health services”

The code “recognises the role of health professionals as advocates for patients” and that parties to a collective agreement should “…engage constructively and participate fully and effectively in all aspects of their employment relationships.”

The point made in this fact sheet centres on one clause, which states that parties to a collective agreement will “not deliberately attempt to provoke a breakdown in the bargaining”, and potentially also “not act in a manner that undermines the other or the authority of the other”.

What does this mean?

This means that comments to media and being ‘in the media’ is fine — just as long as it doesn’t deliberately provoke a breakdown in the bargaining or undermine the other. There are many ways to work with media and be vocal in the media that does not lead to a breakdown in bargaining or undermine the relationship. Therefore, this clause is not an absolute justification for silence. NZNO membership can be vocal in the media!

Making public comments

There are sections in the ‘code of good faith’ that covers public comments. Section 14 to 18 lay out this process. This is further example that there are pathways to follow and that members are protected to speak out — given certain criteria are meet.

What does this actually mean?

Throughout the NZNO campaign there have been many reports in different forums around a failure to ‘get members voices’ out there. Repeatedly this failure to open up to the media has been attributed to concerns around the “code of good faith”. Without this clause it could be interpreted (or conspired) that there is an unwillingness to build support from membership… like an agenda was already pre-set? Alternatively, it could be interpreted as just poor campaigning. Either way…. This is not good.

What does this mean for us?

Another purpose listed in the code of good faith for public health sector is:

to recognise the importance of — (i) collective arrangements; and (ii) the role of unions in the public health sector.

Collective arrangements (i.e. the DHB MECA) allow for collective benefits and collective action. 27,000 NZNO members in DHBs across Aotearoa is a lot of collective power. We are stronger together. Unions are important in this role. But unions are only important if they function to serve the membership and build members democratic voice. The code of good faith recognises the importance of workers in union, the right to speak out, the power of collective organising and for workers to be advocates for health.

What can the future hold?

People should expect to be given a voice to champion a better health system. If you are reading this and feeling frustrated, then get involved. What is happening around Aotearoa at the moment with Nurse Florence, Dear David is an example of health workers organising and speaking out. Health Sector Workers Network can categorically say that it is not a lack of willingness from members or organisers to speak out and build member power. The issue rests with the industrial leadership of NZNO. Don’t be fooled any longer. Challenge this agenda. Unions are the membership. Workers can lead change collectively. Agitate, educate and organise!

In solidarity,

Health Sector Workers Network

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