Nurses Are Worth More - Kevin Campbell Speech
General Debate speech notes, 5 December 2001.
Kevin Campbell, Alliance MP I want to focus in this debate on the issue of the nurses rally that I attended in Christchurch's Cathedral Square on Monday. I acknowledge the nurses that turned up and I accept that most of them were reluctant to have to take strike action. But I say to them that what this Labour-Alliance Government has provided is an industrial relations framework that gives them every right to take strike action during their negotiations for their pay round, and the Alliance supports them in that.
I say to the critics of the Employment Relations Act and the increased industrial disputes that they said would follow, that in the first 9 months of the Employment Relations Act there were fewer industrial stoppages than in the first 9 months of the Employment Contracts Act.
I pay tribute to the unions who attended the rally in Christchurch. Those unions were standing beside the nurses. That demonstrates how this Labour-Alliance Government has addressed some of the power imbalances we had under the Employment Contracts Act.
As an Alliance member of Parliament, I was very pleased to see on the front page of the Christchurch Press on the morning of the strike, a quotation from the mother of a young girl who was being attended to in the accident and emergency department in Christchurch Hospital. She said: ``I wouldn't mind paying a few dollars extra in my taxes because they do such a good job'', meaning the nurses. That pleases me as an Alliance member of Parliament because for 10 years Jim Anderton and the Alliance have been saying that just a small increase in taxation for everyone will be enough to give us a good health system.
It is interesting to have a look at some of the figures. An increase of 1 cent in the dollar brings in $300 million. Mr Sowry is going on about hospital deficits, which his government was partly responsible for. Well, an extra $300 million wouldn't be a bad start in dealing with the deficit and providing enough to improve pay and conditions for hospital workers.
I took up the issue of extra taxes with some of the nurses on the rally and also at the picket sites at Hillmorton Hospital and the public hospital, to see what they thought of paying a bit more tax for health. I have to say that they overwhelmingly supported the idea.
This strike has also highlighted the gender pay gap. The nursing profession is female dominated and it is suffering in terms of gender pay equity. It is not fair, in my opinion, that nurses are getting about $10,000 less than police officers. Both nurses and police deal with trauma and death daily. Both groups require an air of professionalism and both do essential tasks. There is an unfairness in that.
I have to remind people that in 1990 the Labour Government passed the Employment Equity Act. Within about 5 months, the National Party repealed it with its Labour Relations Amendment Act, no doubt in preparation for the Employment Contracts Act. Hence, it is interesting that the National Party members are suddenly concerned about nurses and their issues at the moment but that they did not support the Labour Government's Employment Equity Act. That Act would have given nurses hope about gender pay equity issues.
The Alliance is committed to gender equity issues. Liz Gordon presently has in the members' ballot the State Sector (Enhancement of Equal Opportunities) Amendment Bill. Clause 6 of that bill will ensure that, in terms of the public service at least, there will be measures to ensure genuine pay equity, whereby male and female employees receive equal pay for work of equal value.
It is not only Liz Gordon who is committed to that. The Alliance, through the Minister of Women's Affairs and the Associate Minister of Labour, Laila Harré, is also dealing with pay equity issues and making that a priority for the Ministry of Women's Affairs. That Ministry presently is preparing a discussion paper, which will be released to the public early next year to deal with these issues. The Alliance is making an effort to address the issue of the gender pay gap in New Zealand.
So I say to the National and Act members in the House, if you were really concerned about the nurses strike you would have supported increased taxes and pay equity legislation. I commend any of you who have the power of your convictions to support these policies.