Maranga Mai! Rowing towards change on the same waka

December 8, 2022

At the heart of Maranga Mai! – NZNO’s campaign to fix the nursing crisis – are individual members who are empowered to act collectively for change. The goal is “building member power” by growing the membership, and increasing member support for each other, to gain permanent solutions to the health care crisis.

Health care assistant Leah Baterbonia

Aged care centre health care assistant Leah Baterbonia and two colleagues took their concerns about short staffing to their local MP.

Advertisement
Southern Cross Advert

  • Baterbonia said it was important members understood what their rights are.
  • Visiting an MP to raise their concerns was empowering for members, and encouraging for those who couldn’t participate.
  • Talking to one another regularly was key to gather information and ideas for collective action.

 

 

Crisis resolution mental health nurse Jayne Daly

Staffing in a Christchurch crisis resolution mental health team is 25 per cent down on required staff. On a recent shift there was only four staff rostered on. It was the tipping point for Daly, who initiated a meeting with senior management.

  • Taking part in a collective action, including attending meetings, helped team members feel their concerns were shared.
  • The action was taken by members from NZNO and the PSA, and this increased the impact when they met with management.
  • Getting support from an NZNO organiser helped the busy members through the process, and to keep the momentum going.

 

Health care assistant Dave Dawson

Dave and his fellow delegates and members at Summerset by the Sea in Katikati, took their grave concerns about staffing and culture to the company’s chief executive.

  • Building the confidence of members to take or support an action takes time, as some need reassurance they will be safe from serious negative consequences.
  • An NZNO organiser and professional nursing advisor supported members to take action, and this had been a huge help.
  • Members who were fearful of taking action were ab le to participate by signing a group letter to the chief executive, and were further comforted by having the support of NZNO, who sent the letter on their behalf.

 

On an overcast Friday afternoon in November, about nine crisis resolution staff gathered in a meeting room on the Hillmorton Hospital specialist mental health service campus in Christchurch. 

NZNO delegate and RN Jayne Daly summed up the wider goal of the meeting.  

“I’d like to see staff that are happy to come to work and not staff that are distressed and just quitting.”

It’s a familiar lament, and one that is driving a surge of collective action in diverse nursing workplaces around the motu.

Members face unprecedented staffing shortages – in some cases with managers who refuse to acknowledge or act on the situation. 

“We are all in the same waka, rowing against the tide of disrespect, low wages, health and safety risks and being taken for granted.”

Actions include visiting a local MP, writing a letter to senior management, requesting a meeting with senior management, boycotting additional shift requests, posting public updates on staff numbers in hospitals, and holding rallies and strikes.

Under the banner of Maranga Mai! Rise Up! members are being encouraged to join together to take action in their workplaces, and support those in other sectors, who are fighting for the same things.

Daly said she organised a member meeting after learning, on a recent shift handover, she would be one of just four staff for that shift. Staff numbers per shift have dropped consistently – from up to 12 per shift, to just six – over the past two years. But Daly was incensed the number had dropped even lower on that night, to four. 

“I said we can’t carry on like this.”

The team managed the workload without incident, with extra staff from other areas filling in until 8pm, Daly said.

Crisis resolution mental health nurse and NZNO delegate Jayne Daly said members worked together to escalate their concerns to senior management.

But the staff shortage created huge stress, and was not safe or sustainable. 

“There’s a genuine fear of an adverse event,” Daly said. 

The crisis resolution team works with those suffering acute levels of mental distress and illness and operates 24/7 over three shifts. Staff provide in-person assessments, treatment in the community, and referrals to other services, with patients under care for several weeks.

Patient numbers for the service should, ideally, be capped at 80, but at times have exceeded 120, Daly said. 

With the support of NZNO and organiser John Miller Daly called an urgent meeting of members. 

“I’d like to see staff that are happy to come to work and not staff that are distressed and just quitting.”

About 22 turned up, with many expressing their distress and concern over the situation. 

Members of the Public Service Association (PSA) also joined the meeting, and together they agreed to request a meeting with senior management. 

A sub-group of several members attended and asked for a review of the service and changes to reduce demand, without compromising patient safety, and clarification over steps to take when staff were overwhelmed by demand. 

Since then there had been two positive meetings with senior management, Daly said.

Management has committed to weekly meetings, in recognition of the severity of the problems faced by members.

“It’s good that the problems are being openly discussed now, and there are attempts to address them.”

All in the same waka

“Building member power” was a key component of the Maranga Mai! campaign, Tōpūtanga Topuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) chief executive Paul Goulter said.

The goal was to increase membership, engagement, participation and cross-sector support to build leverage for change, locally and nationally. 

“We are all in the same waka, rowing against the tide of disrespect, low wages, health and safety risks and being taken for granted,” Goulter said. 

Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa – New Zealand Nursing Organisation chief executive Paul Goulter.

He’s confident members will participate, even as they face extreme workplace stress. 

“Yes, they are tired and fatigued, but they’re passionate about doing their jobs properly, and being supported to do that, and that’s not happening at the moment, so they will go out and fight for it.”

Towards member-driven action

NZNO (acting) associate industrial services team manager Lynley Mulrine agreed, saying building member power was a “long game”.

“Once you participate and get a win, it encourages everyone to keep the pressure on the employer.”

Demonstrating and building member power did not always mean going on strike, or organising a big event, Mulrine said. 

NZNO (Acting) associate industrial services manager Lynley Mulrine said building collective power was a “long game”.

NZNO industrial services manager Glenda Alexander said NZNO was shifting focus towards a more member-driven model.

Restrictions on union activity that flowed from the Employment Contracts Act in 1991, contributed to a focus on “getting the bargaining for collective contracts done, rather than building up member power behind the issues”, she said. 

Alexander said collective action needed to be led by members. 

“So, it’s inverting that model to say we’re [staff] here to support you guys, doing what you need to do.”

Think local, act national

In Hawkes Bay, members and caregivers at Oceania care home, Eversley, took their concerns to Tukituki Labour MP Anna Lorck, with support from organiser Stephanie Thomas in early November. 

Staff at the small aged-care facility have become increasingly despondent over poor management and unsafe staffing. 

Health care assistant (HCA) Leah Baterbonia, who has worked at the home part-time for 13 years, said things had changed for the worse this year. 

She felt efforts to raise the issue of short-staffing at the facility had been ignored.

With the issue impacting the whole aged-care sector, Baterbonia, Thomas and two other Eversley HCA members decided to pay Lorck a visit.

Lorck told the group she would “see what she could do”, but defended the Government’s record on health care, pointing to funding approved for a new hospital in the region, Thomas said. 

Health care assistants and NZNO members Josiah Lam, Nicky Tong and Leah Baterbonia with Labour MP for Tukituki Anna Lorck (second from left).

Baterbonia said the visit gave her and the other members confidence they could go to their local representative and was a good demonstration of solidarity for their colleagues. 

On November 28, the Government announced it would provide $200 million per year towards a pay rise for workers in aged care, hospices and Māori and Pacific health care organisations. 

Baterbonia said things had become desperate with staff unable to take leave and expected to care for up to 15 patients each on some occasions.

She said 15 staff had quit in the past five months, and some described their workplace as “a living hell”.

Health care assistant Leah Baterbonia visited her local MP with two colleagues to advocate for urgent improvements.

“One said, ‘I don’t want to come to work any more. Every time I walk in the door, I want to go home’. “

Lorck said she hadn’t raised the issue of short staffing in aged care directly with the minister following the meeting with the members. But she said MPs discussed issues in health and were “aware of all the issues raised”, including staff shortages. 

“I think [the Eversley members’] presentation represented what they were seeing on the front line and how we need to continue to value the work that they do. As the local MP, I’m continuing to talk to them, that’s what I should do.”

Lorck said it was important workers were represented by unions to address issues arising in individual workplaces.

“As an MP I don’t get involved in those issues.”

‘I’ve never seen morale so low’

Another group of members, who work at Summerset by the Sea in Katikati, a small town in the Bay of Plenty, have been plagued by staffing issues and what they say is poor management.

In some cases staff were getting less hours than they were contracted for, with management under utilising casuals – a situation that resulted in unsafe staffing, and a strained workplace culture, delegate Dave Dawson said. 

“There was a culture of toxicity and people were getting really fed up.”

After unsuccessful attempts to raise the issue with local managers, the members wrote to NZNO Veronica Luca for support. Of 33 staff, 28 signed a letter outlining the issues they wanted addressed, Dawson said. 

Health care assistant Dave Dawson on the job at Summerset by the Sea, Katikati. The NZNO delegate has been supporting members to take collective action for change.

“That’s a phenomenal result. I didn’t coerce anyone, I said if you want to move forward, we’ve got to do something, and this is what we can do.”

Some staff had been reluctant to get involved, fearing there would be negative consequences, Dawson said. 

Luca arranged a meeting in early July,  at which delegates presented their concerns to local and national management.

Summerset committed to agreed actions to address the issues including health and safety training, rosters created in line with contract commitments, minimum staff to patient ratios, respectful communications, an open door policy for staff concerns, an increase in advertising for staff, and education sessions from a NZNO professional nursing advisor. 

Advertising and education commitments were delivered – but other commitments were ignored, Luca said.

As a result, members wrote directly to the CEO with their concerns in late July.

But the company took an approach of “delay, delay, delay, defend, deny”, Luca said.

“It’s good that the problems are being openly discussed now, and there are attempts to address them.”

“There was ongoing resistance from Summerset to carry out the agreed changes and improve the workplace. In fact conditions worsened.”

Instead of addressing the issues in a constructive way, management initiated disciplinary action against staff, based on false allegations, Luca said.

In October, she sent an email with a formal complaint from a member, and all the correspondence between the union and the company in the previous months.

Dawson said members were surprised, and heartened when the company initiated a workplace culture review in November. 

Advertisement
Grow as a nurse with Ara

He hoped real change would eventuate as staff morale was the worst he’d seen in his seven years at the care home.

Dawson and Luca said if changes failed to materialise, members planned to escalate collective and individual actions, including an approach to media and taking personal grievances in the new year.