23 Aug 2019

Nurses' leader fights to prevent being ousted from union job

3:13 pm on 23 August 2019

A bitter union row could see a prominent nursing leader removed from the job.

File photo

File photo Photo: 123RF

Grant Brookes, who is president of the large New Zealand Nurses Organisation, has been accused of misconduct by the leadership of his own union.

Yesterday he filed an application with the Employment Relations Authority seeking to prevent the union from ousting him.

The row began during negotiations with district health boards for a new employment agreement. The deal covers 30,000 of the union's 51,000 members.

The pay bargaining was marked by strained relationships within the union over its bargaining strategy. The new row mainly concerns a message sent by Mr Brookes in the early hours of the morning on 3 July last year to a senior union official. The union has confirmed this was industrial services manager Cee Payne. RNZ News has tried unsuccessfully to contact Ms Payne.

Mr Brookes sent the message by Facebook Messenger, and accused her of hitching herself to the "wrong wagon" and making a mistake. Union members had voted to back strike action on 5 July. Ms Payne then announced the union was recommending to members that they accept the latest version of a proposed pay deal. Members remained very unhappy though and it was then that Mr Brookes sent his message to Ms Payne.

Mr Brookes told RNZ tensions were high. He said union members had voted to reject a pay offer and he supported that 100 percent but Ms Payne had a different view. He said he knew he shouldn't have sent the message - that it was inappropriate - but he also didn't think it was that serious. He had tried to apologise but that had not been accepted.

Mr Brookes received details from the union late yesterday of its case against him. He said the message episode was the most serious complaint but there are others too.

He said one concerned a speech he gave to striking nurses in Aotea Square in Auckland on 12 July last year. The union said he had not informed its chief executive, Memo Musa, beforehand. The parties differed about whether Mr Brookes had read from a union statement at the rally or said something else.

He said he had also been accused of breaching an agreement he had given the union leadership to stop using Facebook to communicate with members. He told RNZ he had never made that agreement.

The union leadership has called a Special General Meeting for 16 September - the day before the Annual General Meeting - to hear this case. Delegates are to hear about the allegations - including from Mr Brookes himself - before voting on whether he should be removed.

The union said the fact misconduct did occur had been confirmed to it by an external and independent review commissioned by its board of directors. That review is expected to be sent to members before 16 September.

Earlier this week a letter signed by about 70 union members criticising the union leadership over this row was released to media. It accuses the union's board of directors of waiting until their very last day in office, a year after these events, to use the message to Ms Payne to oust Mr Brookes.

They say he's been targeted by some members of the outgoing board and Ms Payne who "clearly prefer that the union is run by a tiny group of people without any input from members".

The union's kaiwhakahaere, or co-president, Kerri Nuku, has said this letter was one-sided and that members should wait until they get more information shortly.

In the meantime, another external independent review By Ross Wilson is to be released by the union on Tuesday, 27 August. It was commissioned by the union after the turbulent and challenging pay talks and would focus on how the process was managed by the union.

It's under wraps until members have been told about its contents, but seems likely to be critical.

The union's chief executive, Memo Musa, says it stresses a need for the union to improve communication, including on social media. Another key recommendation, he said, would be improved planning for so-called Life Preserving Services agreements with DHBs - governing how hospitals will be staffed during strike action - in future.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs