How did you respond when you heard the news that NZNO’s DHB members had voted to reject the offer and issue a strike notice?

I screamed! Absolute excitement. Nurses are finally standing up for each other. Health professionals are working together to create positive change for our health system.
It is not unreasonable to want the best for your colleagues and patients.

Were you confident of the outcome of the vote?

Yes, absolutely. The number of messages I was receiving about how nurses were feeling – while the voting was going on over the two weeks – made me strongly believe it (the DHBs’ third offer) was going to be rejected.

At my place of work, everyone I knew was talking about the voting, and they said they’d voted ‘no’.

It was a ‘no’ from me because I believe we are worth more than what we are currently paid, and, more importantly, that we deserve to be kept safe at work, and that the current offer from the DHBs does not seem to be doing anything to meaningfully address this.

I had hoped that nurses would look at the offer and how it would affect others besides themselves. At the end of the day the outcome of the negotiations affects all of us.

Why do you think nurses strongly rejected the deal?

Nurses rejected the deal we think for multiple reasons. Safe staffing and good remuneration should not be mutually exclusive. It is true that better pay will attract new nurses and, more importantly, retain nurses with the experience and ability to the do the job of caring that New Zealanders deserve.

Many nurses are living pay-to-pay so survival is also a valid reason for declining the offer. We think the offer being rejected also highlighted the current unity of health care professionals. Although some thought the offer would be enough for them individually, many voted ‘no’ because it wasn’t a good or even okay deal for their colleagues – the deal, for instance, might look good for RNs (if they do overtime every weekend and lots of nights), but it offers very little for ENs and HCAs.

Safe staffing is more important. Safe staffing SHOULD NOT, be included in negotiations. Safe staffing is an employees’ right. We should not have to bargain for it.

I know too many people who have sustained career-ending or career-limiting injuries, particularly brain damage, for assaults.

People on the New Zealand, Please Hear Our Voice Facebook page are paying tribute to the work of yourself and fellow founder Nurse North about in helping unite nurses   the current dispute and giving nurses a place to share their thoughts, frustrations and stories about their profession.  How do you feel about your role?

It still doesn’t feel real to me. I appreciate all the thanks I receive. I strongly believe however that if it wasn’t for all the members we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are now. This hasn’t been ‘all me’. This has been because everyone has come together from all areas of health.

If our members on #hearourvoice didn’t work together, engage on the page and write their experiences to us we wouldn’t be here today.

I was full of fear at the beginning that we would lose motivation and momentum. Instead this movement has continued to grow and I hope at the end of this every nurse will look back and see how incredible they are for helping us push for change. Together we have achieved so much already.

The original page has had some spin-off pages?

We helped created a private, closed group for health professionals only, to share with each other away from the public eye and media. Nurses should have a way to react out to others in a private place. Whether it is because of bullying or asking for advice on another topic.

The other site, Nightingales Fight for Fair Pay, started because some people wanted a more refined look for the media, where as I felt it was more authentic to allow people to express themselves without being edited.

The experiences nurses have shared on the page are sometimes shocking, their feelings are intense and raw and they deserve the opportunity to speak freely to New Zealand. I wish @NZNightingales all the best on their endeavours.

My fight will remain on the ‘New Zealand, please hear our voice’ page. It takes a lot of energy to maintain this page.

What do you think the main priority should be to help reach a settlement to the current impasse?  Safe staffing or pay?

There are several reasons health professionals may be feeling that safe staffing is more important than pay. I feel both are important.

We shouldn’t have to negotiate for safe staffing in our MECA (multi-employer collective agreement) and many are feeling our staffing concerns are not being addressed appropriately or in a timely manner. Should this not be addressed immediately? Can the government not see the crisis we are all in? Or is this complete ignorance on their part…?

Safe staffing needs to be addressed now and it shouldn’t be included in our pay negotiations.

Staffing effects patients. Safe staffing will save lives.

In New Zealand there is a culture in nursing such that if you point out a problem, YOU become a problem.

Whether it’s unsafe staffing, bullying, not being trained adequately, not having enough resources or something else. Any nurse who attempts to improve this by speaking up is putting their career on the line.

No nurse wants to ever have to document that their working conditions are unsafe for patients as the nurse is then blamed for this, and nothing done to fix the underlying problem. Any nurse that raises a red flag may be be reprimanded.

The only possible outcome from this culture is nurses not reporting unsafe events. The #hear our voices’ page is popular as it is addressing what members feel. People still feel they need to speak anonymously because of that culture – even when it’s the right thing to do.

How will it feel personally to strike?

Strike action is a scary thought.

I think about if I will be able to afford to pay my bills and feed my family that pay period.
Will people die if I strike? And will my patients be cared for when I walk off? Is my employer going to punish me somehow for striking?

Striking is really scary for many like myself; it’s not an that action health professionals will be taking lightly.

What can we do now? We are not being listened to or heard by our DHBs or Government. We are given excuses. We have been told that we will not get security guards in acute adult psych wards, and that there are ‘good reasons’ for this, but we haven’t been told what these reasons are.

We get told there wasn’t the money even for the last pay offer that was made, even though the DHBs seem to have found an extra quarter of a billion dollars fairly easily and quickly.

My only comment to health professionals is don’t give up. Keep working together. Keep having a voice. Keep being heard.

You can’t be ignored forever. Change will come, keep fighting. You are worth more than gold.

Soon after the page founded the focus was on the petition and May 12 national marches? You then planned to regroup – so where do you see the future of the page beyond the eventual settling of this dispute?

We did regroup. We had a few slip-ups but have managed to pull things back around to focus on what is important. It’s important to be united, it’s important to speak up and it’s important to use our unions. We pay them to work for us and better our conditions.

My plan is to end violence against healthcare workers. It should be a law like it is in other countries. In the media we are continuously reading about assault on nurses. How much longer can this continue?

The group has enabled many nurses who were feeling isolated within their workplace experiences to connect with a much-needed support system and made them realise they are not facing certain issues alone.

Whatever the future holds for the group, we want to continue being a place that nurses can turn to for support, and that unites them to push for change in our hospitals.

BACKGROUND

‘Nurse South’, an enrolled nurse working in acute mental health and ‘Nurse North’, a new graduate nurse, founded the New Zealand, Please Hear Our Voice Facebook page on March 4 as a forum for Kiwi nurses to share stories that gave the public insight into nursing today – both the negatives and positives.

Filling a media silence gap  – while the NZNO waited for confirmation that its district health board members had rejected the 20 DHBs’ pay offer – the Facebook group’s members quickly snowballed to reach 45,000 nurse and non-nurse members within about a month.

Inspired by the successful ‘Dear David’ midwives social media campaign, the Nurse Florence campaign has been seeking public backing for the growing groundswell of nurses’ – both union and non-union members – expressing their struggles and frustration with the impact of current staffing levels and pay on their ability to provide safe patient care across the wider health sector and not just DHBs.

The founders chose to be anonymous, and for nurses to have the option of posting their stories anonymously, to allow nurses to both respect the privacy of their patients and to be able to speak frankly about working conditions.

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