I grew up under a barrage of strikes. In 1970s Britain, there was always a strike somewhere – a car plant strike here, a cross-Channel ferry strike in the holiday season. Strikes were as regular and tedious as they were damaging.
I studied for my ‘A’ Levels (7th Form Certificate) by candlelight, as the miners went on strike every winter, causing chaos and power cuts across the country. As a result, I have always hated unions and refused to join the Students’ Union at University, even though membership was mandatory. I believed, and I still do, that fair pay negotiations should take place between willing and co-operative employers and employees, and that a compromise can always be reached. However, I strongly support the nurses’ strike on Wednesday. I might even join their picket line if I get a chance.
Why such a change of heart? The answer is simple. This government is spending money like water on things we don’t need. I have already written about the Petone to Ngauranga cycleway, currently under construction, which is set to cost $190 million and is really just going to be a fun park. Now Auckland is set to have a fun park of its own, admittedly at a much greater cost, with the new ‘silly bridge’ that is set to be built across the harbour for walkers and cyclists only, at an estimated cost of $785 million.
They have cancelled several important roading projects, particularly in Auckland, that were essential to reducing congestion in the city. Little do they realise, it seems, the damage that congestion does to the economy, as people sit in traffic for hours on end, going nowhere.
Yes, clearly, they are trying to drive people out of cars, but it will never work. You can’t take the kids to school on the back of a bike. You can’t pick up groceries on the way home from work on a bike either. Some people will take more and more to working from home, but they will still get the car out to take the kids to and from school.
Nurses can’t work from home. Some nurses travel around visiting patients, but most nurses work in hospitals. They have to drive, they have to park their cars, and in most places, they have to pay a fortune for parking. Nurses don’t get a lot of perks, but they do an essential job and we will really struggle if the numbers dwindle.
Modern-day nurses all have degrees. Many have post-graduate qualifications. It is unusual for a profession where a degree is required for the workers to be lowly paid, but that is the case with nurses. First-year nurses in this country are paid about $5 above the current minimum wage. When you think of their skill level, and the fact that many of them end up with student loans, I’m sure many nurses wonder if it is all worth it. Better to work in a cafe these days for $20 an hour – no student loan, no unsociable hours, no being covered in vomit or faeces. If it were me, I’d rather make coffee.
Jacinda has 4 press secretaries. All ministers now have at least 2. These people will be well paid. The public sector is being blown out of all proportion with pen-pushing jobs that create no value. But if you are in hospital and need help, how much value does a nurse have? Nurses are hugely valuable in everything they do. Anyone who needs health care knows this only too well.
The biggest issue here though, is that our nurses can hop across the ditch and be paid about 30% more if they work in Australia. More and more nurses are doing just that. The borders with Australia are open and Australia is hiring. Our borders with other countries are mostly closed, making it more and more difficult to bring in overseas nurses. If we don’t do something about nurses’ pay, then we will soon be facing a chronic shortage of nurses – a shortage that could have been avoided if the government had not been splashing money around on projects that we do not need, instead of funding essential services, like nurses, midwives and other hospital workers.
We already have a chronic shortage of midwives. There are other chronic shortages in the health sector too, such as dental hygienists. Once we have a nursing shortage, we are in real trouble. Surgeries will be delayed, emergency services will be impacted and all our health services will be in decline. Things are bad enough now. We don’t need them to get any worse.
If you were to be receiving treatment this Wednesday, you have my sympathy, as your treatment, if not urgent, is going to be delayed – and, for some of you, this will not be the first time. While you may feel angry towards nurses for causing this, just think for a moment. These people save lives. Imagine a hospital visit without sufficient nurses. Health services and care will take a downward spiral if we don’t start paying nurses properly. We are heading that way already.
Nurses don’t want to strike. They know the risks involved in doing that. This is action of a last resort.
We must put pressure on this government to start funding the things that really matter in this country, rather than spending excessively on things that don’t matter. We cannot do without nurses, but we could do without a slide at Parliament, a cycleway from Petone to Ngauranga, or a ‘silly bridge’ in Auckland that no one will use.
We need to bring some sanity back into this government’s spending, for everyone’s sake. Maybe a nurses’ strike will force some progress in the right direction.
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