The president comments

November 1, 2021

“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows.” – Manual of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan. (Dune).1

Anne Daniels
Anne Daniels

Relationships underpin all that we do and have done in nursing.


NZNO’s centennial celebration included the publication of a book, Freed to Care, Proud to Nurse, which identified the benefits of developing and maintaining positive relationships with government, employers, education providers and the Nursing Council, to enable the growing professionalism of nursing from the very early 1900s to the late 1980s2.


However, relationships change and are not always mutually beneficial.

Over the years, tension between professionalism and unionism grew.

Continued expectation of nurses’ sacrifice, reflected in inequitable nurse’s remuneration, was at the heart of this tension.


In 1973, the first nurses’ union formed but had no appetite for real industrial action until the late 1980s, when the “gendered nature of nursing and the related disadvantage in the fight for decent conditions and pay was finally acknowledged in the pay equity campaign”.3

It took 20 more years before this year’s district health board pay win, underpinned by the relationships built up through a different way of working. It was focused and largely member-led, supported by a phenomenal NZNO staff and member negotiating team, and many hours of discussion and debate.

This successful, ground up, approach has been done before.

Recently I was lucky enough to watch a documentary on the 12-week delegate-led strike in Kinleith, Waikato, in 1980.4

What struck me most is that they talked to each other, over many cups of tea, in a community hall, where they worked voluntarily together as they focused on achieving their common goal – pay equity. No-one was excluded. Respect grew through openness, collaboration, opportunities for reflection and growth, strengthening relationships and practising vulnerability.5

Many challenges are before us. We must prioritise. We must focus on a few things we can do well and get them done.

For example, throughout our NZNO history, our relationship with Māori members has been largely invisible and often silenced due to our continued acceptance of our assimilated Eurocentric social mores.

An organisational NZNO infrastructure, along with its inherent processes that reflects this history, must be challenged, to embed te Tiriti o Waitangi, eliminate inequity, and institutional racism.6, 7

Further, inequity between public and private nurses’ pay and conditions must go.8, 9 Safe staffing for all, must be mandated.10, 11, 12

Internationally qualified nurses, who make up nearly 30 per cent of our membership, suffer separation from families, due to inequitable immigration policies.13 This must be made visible and eliminated. The right to family life is recognised internationally as a human right.14

We need to build stronger, mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders involved in these issues to achieve our priorities. We must be at the table to talk over a cup of tea.

I have been in this job for just a few weeks, and I have been spending that time building, rebuilding and maintaining relationships. It is something we must all do.

We have an opportunity at the beginning of our constitutional review to take delicate care to talk to each other and listen, so that in today’s world of change and challenge, we become the change we want to see in NZNO, and in our nursing world.

Ehara tāku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini, takimano – Strength comes not from ourselves alone but from the support of thousands.


  1. Herbert, F. (2006) Dune (opening paragraph). Orion Publishing.
  2. O’Connor, M. E. (2010). Freed to care, proud to nurse: 100 years of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. Steele Roberts Publishers. P11
  3. O’Connor, M. E. (2010). Freed to care, proud to nurse: 100 years of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. Steele Roberts Publishers. P14.
  4. Pohlmann, G., Prosser, R., & Campbell, R. (1981). Kinleith ’80. YouTube. Federation of Labour.
  5. Van Bewer, V., Woodgate, R. L., Martina, D., & Deerb, F. (2021). Exploring Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre as pedagogies in nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 103.
  6. Parahi, C. (2018). Māori nurses suffer discrimination in sick health system.
  7. NZNO. (2019, January 30). Waitangi Tribunal decision just a first step towards equality for Māori women [press release].
  8. NZNO. (2020, January 22). Nurse staffing crisis looming for primary health [press release].
  9. NZNO. (2021, October 6). Open letter to PM expresses nurses’ disappointment at having to consider further industrial action [press release].
  10. ICN. (2009). Position statement. Evidence-based safe nurse staffing (PDF438 KB).
  11. Nursing & Midwifery Council. (2016). Safe staffing guidelines.
  12. NZNO Board. (2020). Policy Remit 1. Review of NZNO strategies for safe staffing (PDF 175 KB).
  13. New Zealand Herald. (2021, September 30). Residency pathway ‘welcome’ for nursing workforce but more Kiwi talent needed.
  14. Human Rights Commission. (2013). Article 16: Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights (PDF 1.48 MB). (pp. 13).