We are now entering the business end of the MECA talks with the next round of voting determining whether we will be taking industrial action or not.

Historic times, the battle lines are drawn and before this is over I suspect there will be a few bloody noses.

On one side we have the district health board negotiators who aren’t shy about keeping the media and general public aware of how magnanimous they are (even if they weren’t asked and were maybe breaching good faith in the process).

In their defence they have since sent a media release to NZNO members which had more of a “oops, who, me?” feel about it than an actual apology.  The fact that it was unsigned suggests that nobody in the DHB group wanted to take ownership of this – although it was of course a strategic, clever move.

Inevitably the damage is now done. If the general public weren’t convinced that every registered nurse will be getting $93,000 pa after this round, then they can rely on the likes of Duncan Garner and Mike Hosking to present the ‘truth’ and infer that nurses are now being just a little bit too greedy and pushy.

On the opposing side is the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), an organisation affiliated to the NZ Council of Trade Unions (there logo is red if you have not heard of them and wonder where their allegiances lie) but more known for its conservative, ‘let’s not make a fuss’ approach, to well, everything.

I suspect it is easier to get state secrets out of the White House than it is getting a straight answer (or any answer at all) from NZNO.  Apparently the numbers who actually voted during these MECA (multi-employer collective agreement) negotiations were significantly higher than ever before. Presumably at some stage during these talks NZNO has used this as leverage to back their demands and so it’s not exactly a secret any more – but these sorts of details are not for the minions.

Equally it is a continuing and embarrassing puzzle that whilst we are encouraged to don purple t-shirts, inflate some similarly coloured balloons and rove about the motu chanting – “What do we want? … When do we want it? Now” – we don’t actually know what we want, particularly in respect to the wages. I certainly don’t ever recall being asked what I thought might be a reasonable percentage increase.

One historical trend of NZNO is to negotiate on the ‘best bang for buck’ principle – basically  there are an awful lot of RNs and not so many senior nurses, enrolled nurses or healthcare assistants (HCAs) – and so fearing a mass withdrawal of members (sadly, where would we go ..?) they always do well by the majority.

Interestingly I wonder how many other professions have their salaries set up so that the higher up the career ladder you progress, the less pay you get. There is no incentive for nurses to progress their careers when doing so may mean an hourly rate increase but an actual drop in pay. (Registered nurses and nurse practitioners appointed to senior positions covered by the MECA’s senior nurses’ pay scale are usually no longer eligible for penalty rates and overtime.)

As a conservative estimate we pay $15 milliona year to NZNO in membership fees, if you believe you are getting your money’s worth out of them stand up, spin anti-clockwise three times, standing on one leg is optional.

And thirdly but by no means leastly (sic) we have the influence of social media, and more specifically the Florence Smith Facebook page which was set up to be an independent voice for New Zealand nurses. It was started in early March and by the end of that month had a membership of 45,000, given the fact that there are only 27,500 nurses affected that is impressive.

There has been some criticism of it (many of the posts are anonymous for very good reasons), some spleen venting by its members but overall it has provided a tangible insight into the reality of some nurse’s personal and professional lives.  I think it is fair to say that this FB page has done more to energise nurses; to raise awareness of our plight than NZNO has done in the past ten years.

Voting is now open and until the 15th  June, if you can’t get to a meeting, then get onto NZNO right away – it is your right to vote, choose wisely but DO VOTE !

Author: Michael Geraghty, Emergency Nurse Practitioner. 

Michael’s disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not reflect the opinion of Nursing Review, my DHB  or anyone else on this planet for that matter and falls under the ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good rant’ category.  

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