“We’ve made history — we haven’t been silenced,” Gisborne Hospital ward 5 nurse Christine Warrander told Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand.
The Employment Court yesterday ruled in favour of Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa NZNO after an 11th-hour legal attempt by Te Whatu Ora to block this afternoon’s one-hour strike. The strike will now go ahead from 1.30-2.30pm today.
‘We’ve made history — we haven’t been silenced.’
In his ruling, Judge Kerry Smith drew heavily on six Gisborne nurses’ written affadavits describing emotional and mental stress, exhaustion from relentless overwork, lack of breaks and fears over making patient errors.
He cited the words of one, Carmen West, “very starkly” telling her husband after a shift: “No-one died today, I don’t think I made a mistake”.
Others described high stress, a lack of breaks, long shifts and feeling they were failing patients on the acute medical ward due to daily short-staffing.
Smith rejected Te Whatu Ora’s arguments that staff did not face “significant risk” and its workplace was safe, saying the evidence “painted a different picture”.
A strike would not immediately resolve the problems — as Te Whatu Ora pointed out — but it was a chance to “draw attention to unsafe and unhealthy conditions”, Smith said, noting staff’s “deep professional concern” for patients.
‘I just screamed — I gave the other nurse a hell of a fright!’
Warrander — who travelled to Wellington for the court hearing on Monday — said yesterday’s win was “not just for us, but for every other nurse in New Zealand”.
She was working on the understaffed ward 5 last night when she got the text about the judgement. “I just screamed — I gave the other nurse a hell of a fright!”
Other nurses, when they heard, “burst into tears” and hugged each other.
“It’s huge – it’s massive that we’ve actually managed to get this far,” said Warrander. “We really didn’t know which way it was going to go.”
‘We’ve gone through pretty much hell for the last nine or 10 months, both physically and emotionally’.
A ‘slap in the face’ by Te Whatu Ora
Warrander said staff weren’t surprised by Te Whatu Ora’s attempt to stop the strike as it would likely lead to widespread industrial action — “this has opened up the door now.”
However, they were disappointed by its claim staff were safe. “To us, that’s really a slap in the face,” Warrander said.
“We’ve gone through pretty much hell for the last nine or 10 months, both physically and emotionally and for them to say, ‘Well, actually no you weren’t’ — we found it really disrespectful and hurtful.”
There were several ward 5 nurses ready to walk out over that claim, she said. “They were done . . . They were like ‘They’ve got no respect for us, they haven’t listened to a single thing we’ve been saying and just giving us lip service’.”
Warrander credited a “huge effort from all the staff on ward 5”, perseverance and documentation.
“Like everything we get told in nursing — documentation. If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen . . . We had all the paper trail backing us up,” she said.
“I felt like a bit of a slave driver sometimes — they’d be complaining we were short of staff, or it was a horrendous shift, and I’d be asking ‘Have you done the escalation pathway? You really need to do this’. Reflecting back, they now know how important it was and the impact it’s had. And we’ve made history. We haven’t been silenced.”
‘No-one died today, I don’t think I made a mistake.’
Warrander said it had taken months of perseverance. “You just have to keep going. There are days you feel it’s just not worth it — but we’ve got there — just keep persevering.”
While staff were happy to have won the right to highlight the safety issues they had faced every day for months, “it’s kind of sad that we have to be doing this”.
NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said the ruling was a “moral victory” for the right of nurses everywhere to strike.
“Nurses right across the health system are not currently safe at work and to have denied them the right to strike over health and safety concerns would have been an intolerable injustice.”
Warrander said it was bewildering that Te Whatu Ora chose to expend thousands in resources and taxpayer’s money on fighting a one-hour strike, instead of putting those resources towards fixing their significant health and safety problems.
The judgement in full is available here: