Preparing the next steps
PHS member leaders shared campaign experiences and planned the way forward at a recent NSWNMA training day.
Training builds skills, lifts spirits
Melissa Mansell, president of the NSWNMA branch at Liverpool Hospital, was recovering from a fractured rib as a result of a workplace assault, when she got the chance to attend union leadership training.
“I felt deflated after the assault. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay the course and continue to be active in the branch,” she said.
“However, I felt reinvigorated after the training course. It gave me a positive outlook that we can win staffing ratios and other improvements, because a lot of nurses are really willing to fight for a better deal.
“The training was really useful. I learned new leadership and communication skills and met some great people.
“I realised I wasn’t alone and that the dire conditions affecting nurses are state-wide across the public health service. We have to change the government’s approach in order to get better staffing and pay.
“During the training sessions I was already messaging my other branch officials to say, ‘You guys need to do this too. You need to enrol in the next course.’”
Melissa said she learned networking and communication skills that would help her to channel members’ negative feelings about their working conditions into positive action.
“I want to help turn anger into hope and actions that will contribute to the NSWNMA campaign for ratios and a decent pay rise.”
She agrees there is ample reason for negativity.
“We have lost four senior triage level nurses in my emergency department just this month. They left because of pressure resulting from our chronic understaffing.
“I need to do something to help turn the situation around. I’m one of the people working there so it directly affects me. I’ll end up with no senior nurse on the floor, which is extremely dangerous and worries me a lot.
“However, we sometimes get lost in complaining and forget that we have the power to influence change.
“Nurses often say things like, ‘I’m sick of this, there are so many people in the waiting room and we’re short-staffed again.’
“I can ask them what they want to do about it, explain that we’ve been campaigning for ratios, and invite them to join us.”
Melissa said the training had shown her that “We can fight this together. Seeing other nurses with the same passion, the same drive, gives me great hope that we will win this if we can multiply our numbers.
“My goal is to make the Liverpool branch a bigger and stronger presence in the next phase of the campaign.”
Melissa said the training course has led to more frequent communication among branch officials in South-West Sydney Local Health District.
“It’s important to have ongoing social connection, so we’ve arranged monthly gatherings at a local hotel for branch members from around the district,” she said.
Course inspires community approach
Media training at the NSWNMA leadership course inspired Wagga Base Hospital branch officials Natalie Ellis and Karen Hart to write to their local newspaper, The Daily Advertiser, seeking community support for the ratios and pay campaign.
Their letter took issue with false claims about the hospital by local Nationals MP Wes Fang, and informed readers that Murrumbidgee Local Health District had more than 300 nurse vacancies – “a critical shortage now impacting services on a daily basis.”
The letter explained the need for staffing ratios and asked the public to support nurses by raising the issue with local politicians.
The editor published their letter as a prominent opinion piece, exempt from the usual word limit for readers’ letters.
Karen said the “excellent” NSWNMA course included “fast track media training” that “clarified what we can and can’t do and say and the best way to word things. It gave us reassurance that as branch members we can speak up in the media on issues like staffing and pay, as long as we remain professional.”
She said the course was a rare opportunity to network with members from other branches in person following a long period of COVID-related isolation and online meetings.
“During the training sessions we heard many good ideas from different branches that have been pursuing the public health campaign in their own ways.
“At Wagga we have had good engagement from our members, but we really want to get the community behind us.
“We have decided to do a flyer drop and get the community involved in our next action. We want the public to participate and share their experiences of the public health system.”
Gaining confidence from media coaching
Grace Langlands, delegate and president of the NSWNMA Orange Health Service branch, said media interviews were an important focus of the recent NSWNMA leadership training course.
“We had the opportunity to get mic’d up, stand in front of a screen and learn to be comfortable with answering media questions,” Grace said.
“It gave me more confidence in dealing with the media and also the reassurance that as union members and union reps we are entitled to speak to the media.
“Doing so doesn’t breach our workplace code of conduct because we’re not talking on behalf of the hospital or NSW Health.”
Grace said the course was “very useful – I learned new skills and refreshed previous training in a very collaborative and supportive environment.”
The course included a session on lobbying politicians.
“We covered issues such as how to book appointments with an MP and plot out a meeting, the need to take your own notes, and how to put a persuasive case by giving them examples they can relate to,” Grace said.
“Mapping skills” were also on the course agenda.
“Mapping involves identifying where union members are located within the hospital, how involved they are in union activity, and whether they may be interested in getting further involved,” she said.
“It’s a useful technique for branch officials to encourage members to get more active with a view to taking on leadership roles at the workplace level.”
Grace said building union strength in the workplace is vital to the success of the ratios and pay campaign.
“When the union is visible, active and supported at the local level, members will be more inclined to engage in state-wide campaigns.
“And when the big actions like the recent strikes are strongly supported, that will encourage more interest in and support for union activity at the branch level.”
She said member involvement in the Orange branch “dropped a bit at the start of COVID because people couldn’t pay fees and were just so overwhelmed.
“We’ve managed to turn that around in the last six months with the strikes. We’ve seen a lot more nurses getting involved, having conversations, and asking what they can do to help.
“At times some people may not understand that it’s going to take more than one or two strikes to get this done; it’s multiple actions that will bring about change.”
Grace said the strikes have shown Orange branch members that “the union is a united front. It’s not just Orange or Sydney that’s fighting for change – the whole state wants ratios and is willing to fight for it.
“When the Industrial Relations Commission ordered us not to strike, it was heart-warming to see the long list of branches that voted yes to striking – and others that supported the strike but were unable to take action because their staffing numbers were already dangerously low.
“I led the chants on our march up and down the main street of Orange. Hearing everyone band together and start chanting gave me goosebumps – I was so proud to see our branch making a noise and being heard for the benefit of our community.
“Members in Orange can feel that something is happening, that we’re going in the right direction.”