18 Feb 2021

Call for Nurses Organisation to release review into board's performance

10:11 am on 18 February 2021

The country's biggest health sector union is facing a massive shake-up following an external review of the board's performance and the resignation of its second president in less than a year.

Kerri Nuku, kaiwhakahaere for the Nurses Organisation

Nurses Organisation Māori kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says the board's behaviour was "not anything but reputable". Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is refusing to release the full report to more than 51,000 members "for reasons of professional sensitivity and confidentiality".

It has been a tumultuous couple of years for the union, with bitter factional infighting, legal action, accusations of racism and even death threats spilling out online.

Nurses Organisation delegate and Canterbury nurse Allister Dietschin welcomed the news there was to be a review of the board's performance.

"Given that in last year, we've had a CEO, two presidents, one vice president and three board members resign is a sign, a clear indication that something is not right within the governance group."

Board members had agreed the review would be a chance to counter the misinformation and negative comments.

Kaiwhakahaere or Māori co-president Kerri Nuku, who was chairing the meeting, said she was "looking forward to the review" and wanted "the facts to speak for themselves" as she believed that the way the board had behaved had "not been anything but reputable".

However, after receiving the report in December the board then decided to restrict who could read it, making it available to only those former board members who had participated in it.

To guard against it being leaked, each of them received a secure, individually numbered copy.

For Dietschin and other rank-and-file members, this smacked of a cover-up.

They started a petition calling on the NZNO to release the review and recommendations.

"There shouldn't be anything to hide. These people are elected by members and we're entitled to hold them to account.

"There should be complete open transparency and accountability to members.

"That's how democracy is meant to happen in a union."

The board said it would not release the full report for reasons of confidentiality - but last on 11 February it finally sent the 33 recommendations to "interested members".

These included governance training for board members, improving their financial literacy and establishing a protected disclosures or "whistleblower" policy.

The reviewer recommended cutting the number of board members from 11 to nine and reducing the positions of president and kaiwhakahaere to half-time.

Governance committee chair Andrew Cunningham conceded the board has had "some failings" over the last two years but was disappointed at the members' demands to see the entire report.

"We're at this point where we're in this state of flux and we have such awesome potential to actually flip it and go into something that's really cool.

"And we're just about there and then people are doing this, which is really disappointing.

"I'm just disappointed that they don't want to come along for the ride."

He confirmed only one of the five board members who resigned in the last year was included in the review because it was about the board's performance, not "employment matters".

"In that light, the suggestion was made not to interview all of the board members who resigned because those members were actively disgruntled at the time, and therefore were unlikely to serve the purpose of the review."

Cunningham said after talking to everyone else involved, the reviewer agreed.

"There was actually such good, consistent information, that there was actually no need to talk to these people."

Cunningham further noted that "many on the current board did not serve during the time being reviewed".

Former president Grant Brookes quit in April 2020, claiming "shadowy forces" were "continuing to pursue their own immediate interests, above the interests of our organisation".

His three supporters on the board, followed suit the same month.

NZNO president Grant Brookes.

Former NZNO president Grant Brookes says the full report must be released. Photo: Facebook/Grant Brookes, NZNO President

Brookes said it did not make sense they were excluded from the review.

"If the purpose of the review was to discover what those issues were, then surely they should have spoken to the four of us who resigned last year after trying to raise the alarm for a long period of time about those issues that have now been revealed?"

Brookes' resignation appears to have intensified the war of words on social media.

Nuku said in November she had been the victim of a number of vicious online attacks - including death threats - during the previous 18 months.

Brookes said it should be possible to release a redacted version of the report with names and personal details removed if necessary to protect people's privacy.

"The board must now release the full report, not just the recommendations. Anything else leaves the strong impression that they have something to hide."

Brookes has since joined the PSA.

Chief executive Memo Musa, who was on the job seven years, leaves next week to head a mental health trust.

Outgoing president Heather Symes declined to be interviewed.

Following her resignation, she made a public statement to members saying her decision was for "personal reasons".

Meanwhile, new contract negotiations with the DHBs are underway, with the union still struggling to win pay equity for nurses in primary care.

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