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Nurse leader describes pay negotiations as 'a maelstrom'

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A nurse leader has spoken out about harsh criticism by some union members during recent pay talks.

The Nurses' Organisation settled a protracted pay row with district health boards in August, agreeing to a $520 million deal that included $38m to employ an extra 500 nurses immediately.

But the agreement, after more than a year of pay talks and a day-long strike in July, was accompanied by a vigorous campaign on social media from a breakaway nurses' group.

Nurses' union associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith said in the October issue of the Kai Tiaki Nursing journal that the pay negotiations over the past year had "taken a toll" on nurses and the union.

She described the pay talks as "a maelstrom" that was accompanied by "anger, bitterness, cynicism and hostility" for some, and by "sadness, disbelief and disquiet" among others.

"Some members (and non-members) took to social media to rain down abuse on NZNO and on individual staff. For many of us in the profession, that behaviour was the wellspring of deep sadness.

What was the profession come to, we asked ourselves and each other as, day after day, the insults…spewed forth."

She said the union was "harangued" about calling off a strike planned for 5 July, but this was not able to go ahead because the union was still bargaining.

"To those who still hold a grudge against NZNO about that, perhaps acquainting themselves with the rules that govern bargaining before unleashing their anger would have been more professional", she wrote.

Despite this, she said, negotiators had to keep working.

"As a profession that espouses critical thinking, compassion, empathy and communication as key to who we are, it begs the question: Are those the values that looked back at us from Facebook?"

Hilary Graham-Smith told RNZ the pay talks were difficult, long and tiring at a time of major unease and unhappiness among nurses about short-staffing, long shifts and overtime.

"So we knew we had something of a crisis on our hands and working that through in the negotiations started out actually to be really quite good. But as time went on it just became more and more difficult."

She said the negotiating team got tired and despondent.

"It took an enormous toll actually and inside the organisation that despondency was felt as well."

"And of course we have to turn the tide of the members' cynicism around and get them back on board with the programme."

Union chief executive Memo Musa said an independent external review of the bargaining process would be commissioned, so the union could learn from the process if needed.

"I'd already recommended...during the negotiation process that at the end of it would be prudent to actually have the review led by an independent person, largely due to the magnitude of a lot of factors which were beyond our control."
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