Add your voice: the submissions process
“A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine.”
- Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
By Briar Edmonds
Every human being wants to feel they have a voice in the decision-making process. Yet sometimes it can feel as though political and organisational decisions are made “up there” and are out of our hands.
Kirsten Windelov, PSA policy advisor, sympathises: “It’s hard when employers seem to have already made up their minds by the time they consult, but, in fact, a submission can have a real impact.
“I have seen PSA members make a big difference for themselves and their colleagues by contributing to submissions on workplace restructurings. Submissions as part of policy processes or other kinds of public consultations can be a very powerful thing when the people whose work is directly affected bring together their collective knowledge and ideas,” says Kirsten. “Submitting through your union is a safe way of doing this.”
There are different types of submission, for example, you can write them and/or orally present them to parliamentary select committees on legislation, or you can make submissions as part of consultation processes run by central and local government.
The PSA has found that one of the barriers to people making a submission is not knowing where to start or how to go about pulling together a persuasive submission. This is where the PSA can help make the process a whole lot easier. One of our aims is to get members’ voices into decision-making processes and we have experienced staff like Kirsten on board to support members to make submissions.
Kirsten says, “Part of my job is to help make it easier for members to be involved in making a submission. Many PSA members have great skills and experience in pulling together members’ perspectives and writing persuasive documents. We work alongside members to support them, we don’t take over. We help with tools to gather members’ views and, if needed, with writing and structuring submissions.”
PSA members can get involved in public and policy consultation processes through the formal PSA submission or one of the PSA networks – such as PSA Youth or the PSA Women’s Network. The PSA provides submission guides for people wanting to be involved individually, or by getting their colleagues together to form a collective view.
When a whole-of-PSA view is needed, the organisation develops a submission based on positions and policies developed through the PSA’s elected structures and through seeking views from relevant groups of members.
“PSA members are fantastic and when we send a call out for comments or ideas for submissions we get really great responses. So, when you fill in a web form for us or send us comments you’re really helping to develop a strong submission and get your interests in front of decision makers,” says Kirsten.
PSA Youth co-convenor Caleb Gordon recently completed both a written and oral submission on the Employment Standards Legislation Bill, and was able to share his experiences with us.
One issue Caleb gave particular space to in his submission was zero-hour contracts, which you may have seen in the news over recent months. “It’s an issue that impacts young people more frequently, but also is one that young people led the campaign on and really offered their voices to,” says Caleb.
“Having to sit in front of New Zealand MPs and speak with authority was not a totally comfortable experience. But through the experience of writing the submission I was confident I knew the material, the stories and the people who would be impacted by this bill. This made saying my piece far easier.”
“I went with the assumption that the committee hadn’t read my submission so gave them the highlights, but made sure I was also telling the personal stories behind them. Arguing policy is easily ignored, but attaching a face and name to an issue makes it harder to turn away,” says Caleb.
“One of the more difficult hurdles I encountered was getting started. There were a number of ways to approach writing this submission and a number of issues I could run with.”
“I started writing it late into the submission period so there was already some great content around, and submissions from other people and groups I could look at for inspiration. In the end, I went with something more formal for the sake of more easily organising all the issues I wanted to address, but still found room to fit in a youth message.”
Caleb considers making the submission was well worth the effort.
“Writing and making an oral submission is a task I would definitely undertake again. It was challenging, but the necessary work required also meant that at the end of the process I had a far better understanding of the issues at hand, potential ones coming up if the bill makes it through, and the experiences and difficulties faced by young people in the workplace.”
If you would like to see some examples of submissions, you can find many at on the PSA website including submissions on legislation and public and policy consultation processes. You will also see some written by PSA members and delegates on restructurings and other organisation-specific proposals.
If you would like some guidance on a submission, talk to your organiser or phone the PSA Organising Centre on 0508 367 772.