Nurses aren’t greedy and they are undervalued in modern society. So why doesn’t the government meet their demands and avert the kind of industrial action the nursing profession has been undertaking? Surely the country can afford it?
The economy is doing very well, or so the government says. The acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters, cites the sharemarket hitting new peaks and Finance Minister Grant Robertson month by month points to the substantial surpluses being recorded in the government’s books as evidence the economy is sound and growing.
So where’s the problem?
As one angry member of the public put it:
“When Winston Peters states there is no more money, perhaps he needs to have another look at the books and remind himself he works for us”.
The writer of that letter to the NZ Herald is confused, of course, when he says Peters “works for us”. Peters is leader of NZ First with a primary interest in working for those who voted for his party.
It is probably fair to say they didn’t include many nurses. Peters enabled Labour to form a government but that doesn’t necessarily mean his political objectives coincide all the time with those of Labour.
So it is Labour which is nursing the headache (if one can be excused the pun). And ministers have made it worse by harping on about the nine years of “neglect” of the public sector under the previous government.
Ministerial naivete is underlined again in the way, both in Opposition and in government, leading Labour politicians have nourished the belief they would be very generous in the treatment of those who worked in the public sector. They would repair the “neglect” of the previous government for those who served the public, particularly in health and education.
Not surprisingly the nurses have rejected the offers made to them, even though there has been significant improvement on the initial bid to settle.
What’s interesting about this dispute is the way the rank and file ignored the leadership’s willingness to accept the most recent offer from the district health boards and went ahead with the strike.
This sets a pattern which may well be followed by other public sector unions.
The government has painted itself into a corner. If it suddenly turns round and discovers another pool of cash with which to satisfy the nurses, it sets the kind of example for other public sector unions which will quite soon exhaust those lovely surpluses.
Then how will the government be able to boast it is running the economy so well?
As Peter Dunne put it this week:
“What’s difficult to understand, is why this government is continuing to send its mixed messages. It simply looks weak and inept, leaving open the possibility of a pretty grim and dour few months ahead, and a large group of disillusioned supporters expecting appeasement before the next election”