I must confess to a little envy when I think of the teachers’ strike yesterday – I have no doubt that there are teachers who are opposed to taking industrial action, and I don’t know how many teachers there are, nor what percentage of them are AEU members, nor how many (as a percentage) took action yesterday. I do know that one of the teachers I caught up with yesterday was the sole representative of his school. I also know that this is the beginning of their campaign – a campaign that, if it’s anything like ours, has months to go before it’s resolved.
I fully support their campaign, and the goals the AEU seek – I believe teachers should be generously remunerated for, as Lisa Fitzpatrick said yesterday, educating our most precious possessions. Well, I don’t have kids, so for me they’re more a resource, but you get the idea.
But I can’t help feeling just a little envy, mixed with sadness, when I compare public opinion and media coverage of nurses’ and teachers’ industrial actions. The latter is overwhelmingly supporting – parents back the short-term inconvenience of school closures, and there are few if any allegations that teachers are being greedy, that students are suffering, or that they should be replaced with cheaper overseas professionals.
I heard of two nurses being spat at for wearing campaign shirts. Though many members of the public were supportive, there was a lot of commentary about how we ought to be grateful to have work at all. The media took months to come around to the idea that ours was less of a pay dispute than a defense of safe working conditions and skill mix. And nurses aren’t supposed to really mention money – there’s still a really strong undercurrent of nursing being a calling, akin to religious vocation.
The AEU campaign heavily hits the promise the Premier made about pay, and rightly so. But I know that, had we followed a similar path, public opinion would have withered. Clearly nursing has a long way to go before we’re seen as being professional, skilled, and worth adequate recompense. Until then, we’ll work with what we’ve got – public support, patient appreciation, and the reality that nurses really are overwhelmingly in it for the non-tangible benefits, like being able to walk away at the end of a shift having left your patients better off than you found them.
As I head in to work now, I hope that I have a night ahead of me where I have enough time to perform care, to talk with my patients, to read their notes, to support my colleagues, to have a break, to catch up with a friend on another ward (and chastise him for yesterday’s plying with cider!), to get all my paperwork done, and get out on time. I hope there are no emergencies, that I have prescriptions for the analgesia and sedatives my patients need, and that the doctors who are on are responsive to my requests.