Why striking nurses expect more from Labour Ministers

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” 



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