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On June 1st the Agreement covering NSW public sector nurses and midwives expires. The NSW Nurses’ and Midwives’ Association has carefully compiled a log of claims, which is explained in this clip

They’ve tabled anything above an inflation-level pay increase of 2.5% and are focusing on not just maintaining and improving existing nurse/midwife: patient ratios, but introducing ratios in new sectors – in many cases areas where Victoria and California, currently the only other places that have legally mandated ratios, don’t have ratios.

My colleagues launched their campaign on Tuesday, with a rally outside Parliament House – and fellow active rep Chris Morgan and I had the very great honour of being asked to attend.

Chris Morgan, bringing a little Victorian red to the NSW blue scrub army

Chris Morgan, bringing a little Victorian red to the NSW blue scrub army as they march toward Parliament House, Sydney

I was really impressed by the size of this initial show of resolve and strength. I couldn’t fit them all in one shot, or even two – so, in a pan from left to right, here’s an idea of their commitment and presence:

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Those used to red shirts, as worn by ANF (Vic. branch) members during our 2004, 2007 and 2011/12 campaigns will note that the NSWNMA have changed tack – for this campaign they’ll be wearing blue scrub tops, as modelled by NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes (here addressing the rally):Brett

I suspect that these functional, professional tops will become as familiar to the NSW public as our red was.

Chris and I weren’t just observers – we had the very great honour of speaking to staff and delegates about our experiences during our campaign. My presentation focused on the events leading up to the campaign, and a predominantly chronological account of how things unfolded from a member perspective, emphasising the contributions members can make.

Among other things, I spoke about the importance of maintaining enthusiasm and motivation – and that, toward the end of the campaign, I played the clip below, about the NSWNMA’s brilliant, ratio-winning 23010 campaign, every night. I was delighted to learn that Carolyn Guichard, who created this short film that so encouraged and lifted me in those last six weeks or so, is  a nurse and NSWNMA member.

Chris’s passionate and rousing speech centred on the emotional journey and personal growth of her participation in the campaign. She discussed the power of social media for communicating quickly; the spirit of friendly competition that grew between hospitals (for the best catering on walk outs, highest media presence, biggest numbers etc); and the role of ninja-like presences at events where the Premier or Health Minister were present – Chris was given a half-hour tip-off that Victorian Health Minister David Davis was visiting Frankston Hospital, and she managed to gather almost fifty nurses to greet the minister, in an event that led the news:

This was Chris’s first ever public speech – her passion and the impact of her words was reflected in her receiving a standing ovation, led by NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes. Chris embodies something I discovered through fighting our campaign, and which I shared with my audience – we are all capable of far more than we realise.

I know I always thought that extraordinary things were done by extraordinary people – it turns out that quite ordinary people, like me, like Chris, and like you, can achieve them, too.

The NSWNMA is constructed and run quite differently from ANF (Vic. branch) – one of these differences is a six-weekly meeting of representatives from each branch of the Association, which is the audience Chris addressed. These kinds of differences were part of what made visiting another arm of my union so interesting and useful – I think I learned as much from them as I hope they did from us.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of my colleagues in NSW, and I wish them every success.I would be delighted to contribute in any way I can, because I know how important this is. I hope their campaign is resolved quickly – I don’t know if I could have sustained the fight had I known at the outset how ling it would take. On the other hand, it was the sheer bullheadedness and unreasonable resistance to fair negotiation on behalf of the Baillieu government (and their negotiators, VHIA) that kept me fighting with renewed rage and commitment.

Like ours, this is not a fight about money – it’s a fight to keep the nursing and midwifery workforces healthy, and the population of NSW safe. NSW’s nurses and midwives already know they can fight. They know they have the unity, drive, creativity and passion to win, and after two years of ratios they not what losing means for their patients, their communities, and their professions. Make no mistake – though governments somehow continue to fail to recognise their worth, nurses and midwives know that ratios are essential for the provision of safe, quality care. There is nothing more important, there is nothing that can distract them, and there is nothing that NSW nurses and midwives will accept in exchange for anything less.
PS It’s 742 days until NSW votes. For Victoria it doesn’t matter whether it’s Ted Baillieu, Denis Napthine, or whoever’s LNP leader on November 29th 2014 – the underlying party ideology is still the same, and we know that an LNP government is bad for nurses and midwives, and bad for our communities. 618 days for us, and counting…