Fighting for a fairer society: nurses, as health care professionals and as part of an international community of trade unionists, must play their part in fighting for a fairer society for all.
Subject: Occupy movement (Influence)
Income distribution (Social aspects)
Nurses (Political activity)
Nurses (Civil rights)
Labor unions (Political activity)
Labor unions (New Zealand)
Author: Payne, Cee
Pub Date: 02/01/2012
Publication: Name: Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand Publisher: New Zealand Nurses' Organisation Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 New Zealand Nurses' Organisation ISSN: 1173-2032
Issue: Date: Feb, 2012 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs Canadian Subject Form: Labour unions; Labour unions
Product: Product Code: E332000 Income Distribution; 8043100 Nurses; 8630000 Labor Unions NAICS Code: 621399 Offices of All Other Miscellaneous Health Practitioners; 81393 Labor Unions and Similar Labor Organizations SIC Code: 8631 Labor organizations
Geographic: Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand
Accession Number: 282425955
Full Text: "He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!"

The Occupy Movement caught fire across the world, following the first occupation on Watt Street, New York, on September 17, 2011. Occupations followed in other American and Canadian cities, motivated by anger over the growing economic unfairness in our society. International evidence reveals that the one per cent who are the mega-rich in our communities are getting richer, white 99 per cent of ordinary working people are getting a shrinking share of the economic pie. (1)

Nurses were on the frontline of the American occupations, motivated by their concern for working people and the threats they were facing because of the current economic recession. "The fight for our communities is our fight. Nurses know that when healthcare, pensions, safety net programs, or education is cut for anyone, everyone is harmed. Nurses bring patients into the world, now we must fight to protect them--and assure a better quality of life and a secure future for our communities, our patients, our families, and ourselves." (2)

New Zealand support

In New Zealand, occupations in Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin were set up in support of the international movement's agenda and principles. The statement of purpose by Occupy Aotearoa New Zealand points out that one in five children live in poverty; our government repeatedly undermines democracy by passing legislation under urgency to fast track public consultation; our country is now open to overseas companies eager to plunder our natural resources and scoop up most of the profits; our cost of living continues to rise faster than wages increase; and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. (3)

The causes of the widening gap are expressed succinctly by the president of the 3.2-million member Canadian Labour Congress, Ken Georgetti: "The assault on the middle-class has taken many forms, including tax cuts to the rich, the shredding of valuable public services, and globalisation that allowed companies, especially banks, to pillage at will. The attack also included moves by governments to make it more difficult for people to join unions, and to limit the ability of those unions to bargain effectively on behalf of their members." (1)

These assaults have been replicated in New Zealand. During the last term of the National Coalition Government, tax cuts for those on the highest incomes, coupled with an increase in GST from 12.5 to 15 per cent and nil to low wage increases, resulted in a significant shift in income away from the majority of the labour workforce. The government's privatisation agenda extended to the Accident Compensation Corporation and the education and core public service sectors, resulting in job tosses, higher costs for consumers and a reduction in access to education. More privatisation has been signalled for the next three years with the sell-off of state energy assets and the advent of charter schools.

Since the Second World War, trade unions have played a key rote in the redistribution of wealth in economies across the Western world. Internationally, unions have been successful in reducing systemic wage gaps and in lifting standards of living. This has been achieved through bargaining, and advocating and influencing government policies for decent working conditions and policies which benefit all people. Since the 1980s, these gains have been under threat from a wave of fight wing governments, including those led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, which have ushered in massive shifts in income distribution, and legislation to de-unionise workforces.

Workers' rights threatened

In this country, more proposed changes to industrial legislation by the recently elected National coalition government will serve corporate interests at the expense of workers. These changes will give employers the right to refuse to be party to a multi-employer collective agreement, withdraw from collective agreement (CA) bargaining without endeavouring to reach agreement, and restrict the rights of new workers to the CA in the first 30 days of employment.

In New Zealand, attacks on workers' rights to fair conditions and their rightful share of the economic pie are evident. The pre-Christmas dispute at Canterbury Meat Packers' Rangitikei site saw employers lockout 110 workers unless they signed up to 25 per cent pay cuts; and now there is the Ports of Auckland (PoA) dispute. These are just two disputes that have the hallmarks of corporate greed at the expense of workers' job security and fairness. (See story sector reports, pp36-37.)

Nurses who work shifts will understand full well the impact of having no security of rostered shifts, one of the changes PoA management is proposing to the CA. Nurses will also understand, better than most, the impact on the nation's health of growing unemployment, more workers without adequate hours of work or job security to support their families' health, nutrition, housing and education needs and more poverty.

Each one of us, as part of the health workforce and as a part of a community of unions in New Zealand, must continue to assist in leading the fight back to a fairer society in Aotearoa New Zealand.

By NZNO industrial services manager Cee Payne


(1) Georgetti, K. (2011) Unions are key to fighting inequity. (November 160 1088187-unions-are-key-to-fighting-inequity. Retrieved 24/01/2012.

(2) National Nurses United Website, October 2011. Retrieved 20/01/2012.

(3) Statement of Purpose, Occupy Aotearoa New Zealand, October 7, 2011
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