Congress 2016 - Stand Together
More than 160 delegates from across New Zealand gathered in Wellington for the biennial PSA Congress, our union’s highest decision making body.
For two days, delegates discussed, debated and voted on a number of issues relating to the future of our union. Held at Te Papa, delegates also elected a new president, farewelled former president Mike Tana, voted on a number of formal changes to the rules and launched Stand Together, our election campaign.
Following rule changes at the 2014 Congress, for the first time our formal networks had representatives with voting rights. For Rauhina Scott-Fyfe, who attended on behalf of Out@PSA, this was a great opportunity to further her involvement in our union.
“It was so great to see democracy in action,” Rauhina said, “I loved the debates that happened around the proposals and getting everything out there on the table – this is what I want to see more of everywhere.
“I had some great conversations with people from different sectors, quite a few came up and talked to me specifically because I was from Out@PSA and I felt like networks give a good starting point for making connections – not just “oh, you work in the public sector” but to make it a bit more personal.”
Congress was also a place for some of our experienced delegates to reconnect with people they might not see on a regular basis.
Verna Sutherland, a Public Service Sector delegate, attended her fourth congress and says that getting together with others from across the union “helps keep that energy going. It revitalises us when you see others feeling the same – across our sectors – when you talk to others you remember that our core union values are exactly the same no matter where you work.”
A new president
One of the key tasks of Congress is to elect the PSA president for a term of two years. We had four outstanding candidates, with significant governance experience in the PSA between them: as delegates, executive board members, network convenors and more.
The election was conducted as an exhaustive ballot, with the lowest polling candidate dropping out after each round of voting until one candidate received more than 50% of the votes. In the third ballot, delegates elected Janet Quigley, a health promoter at Canterbury DHB’s Community and Public Health, based in Timaru.
Our thanks to the other three candidates, who did themselves proud by standing. We know that Benedict Ferguson, Peter Robertshaw and Andy Colwell will continue to be dedicated PSA members and leaders in their own right for many years to come.
Janet spoke briefly to Congress following her election, and she highlighted in particular the importance of Ngā Kaupapa, our plan for supporting Māori in the workplace, as something she was excited to work on during her term.
The specific mention of Ngā Kaupapa made DHB Sector Rūnanga delegate Camron Muriwai pleased.
“We can adopt a document as our policy but what I got from Janet was that she supports growing the culture and principles of Ngā Kaupapa, and I think that’s even more important than just the words,” said Camron. “She’s put it out there that she’s willing to come alongside and strengthen the spirit of the document, and to work with Māori in the PSA to make that happen.”
Congress commits to gender equity and youth leadership
A number of formal proposals for rule changes were made at Congress, and delegates took part in debate that at times was intense.
Congress unanimously supported giving our Deaf & Disabled Members’ Network formal status, meaning the network is now empowered to organise and advocate for our Deaf and disabled members. It will also have voting delegates at Congress 2018.
Another of our formal networks, PSA Youth (PSAY), had their proposal for youth representation on the executive board and our sector committees passed. This means that PSAY will work with the Board to design a process and rules for how this representation will work, which will then be put forward at Congress in 2018.
Rauhina supported the proposal, saying “I definitely encourage people to see our young members as leaders of today, not just of tomorrow as people often say.”
She adds that this has a positive impact for our union as a whole: “Seeing young people who are articulate and active in our union has encouraged me to be more active in political spheres and within the union, especially at my workplace level. I think we all need to be able to see people like us in order to want to be involved.”
The most controversial proposal was deciding how the PSA’s commitment to gender equity would be expressed through our structure. At the last Congress in 2014, delegates had instructed the Board to bring proposals on this issue, and a working group comprised of Board and Women’s Network representatives had discussed extensively over the intervening two years.
The resulting proposal was that all governance bodies should have the same proportion of women as the members that body represents.
Where the disagreement came was, in particular, how “governance bodies” are defined. The Executive Board proposal limited them to the board itself, sector committees, Te Kōmiti o Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina, AGM and Congress. A counter-proposal from the Women’s Network sought to expand this definition to also include national delegate committees.
After a significant amount of discussion, the Women’s Network proposal was defeated in a narrow vote, and the Executive Board’s was passed.
Camron Muriwai supported the Women’s Network proposal, because “from my work in a DHB, I see historically the power has been held by men. No matter what industry we look at, we’ve had a history of holding on to the power and the governance – I’m not saying we have to let go completely but we need to allow the space for women to take their rightful place beside us, or to lead us.”
Despite the defeat of the Women’s Network proposal, Camron still feels that we are moving in the right direction when it comes to gender equity.
“That the Executive Board’s proposal passed is absolutely a positive step – it’s a journey, they will move piece by piece. What I think is fantastic is that these matters are on the floor, you can talk to them, discuss them, they might get heated but we leave as family, we’re one union.”
Other proposals voted on at Congress included tweaks to our rules around informal networks, delegate structures, and fee exemptions for members on parental leave.
Launching our election campaign
“We are part of a movement. A movement that came into being because working people decided to stand together. To say to the person next to them – I have your back, and you have mine.”
These words, spoken by PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk, served to launch Stand Together, our election campaign for quality public and community services.
Erin’s fellow national secretary Glenn Barclay told Congress stories about the wonderful people who make up the PSA, and speaking of the importance of the work we all do.
One story was of a visit to Whanganui to meet PSA members. “One of our members generously took us on a behind the scenes tour of the Whanganui Museum to see their taonga. We were blown away by the depth of their collection, and the countless stories of our shared history held there.”
Our members’ work and passion inspires us, but it will also form the cornerstone of the stories we tell publicly as we build towards the election. The issues that PSA members care about are of huge importance to all New Zealanders, and our election campaign will make sure our voices are heard.
“It strengthens the one link we all have, no matter where we work,” said Verna, “it comes down to one basic issue: How do we want this country to be in the future.”
Congress attendees also took part in four workshops on some of the key issues our members face – mental health, equal pay, building Māori activism and privatisation. Verna says the mental health workshop was particularly useful for her.
“Because I haven’t worked in health for many years it was quite an eye opener to learn about the work environment for our mental health members, and I just have so much admiration for what they do.”
For Rauhina, the workshop which stood out the most was on equal pay.
“It was great to see that the Government has announced the adoption of equal pay principles, and the PSA has been great at pushing that, which we heard about in the workshop. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the legal side, hearing from lawyers about all the work they do on what can be a complex issue.”
Farewell Mike Tana
Congress finished with a heartfelt farewell to outgoing president Mike Tana. After two terms leading our union, Mike is well known and much loved by PSA members across the country, and tears were shed as we said goodbye.
A group of students from Te Kura Māori o Porirua, from Mike’s hometown of Porirua, performed waiata and haka to acknowledge him, while speeches were made by our Kaumātua Kiwhare Mihaka, our two national secretaries and by two visiting Australian indigenous unionists who spoke movingly of the impact Mike has had on their work across the Tasman.
Mike was gifted with a beautifully carved tokotoko as a farewell present, with the kauri seed logo of the PSA set into it, and his emotion was clear as he received this meaningful gift.
Throughout Congress, Mike joked regularly about his campaign to be elected Mayor of Porirua City which was underway at the time, and we are pleased to say he has since been elected in a close-fought race. Congratulations Mike!
The next Congress
Our next Congress will be held in 2018, and all delegates will have the opportunity to express their interest in attending.
Camron Muriwai can’t recommend it highly enough and says Congress helped him realise the breadth of our union: “The sectors, the Women’s and Youth networks…you can read about it all online but to be present with those people was powerful for me.”
Without the support from Te Tira Hauora (the DHB sector rūnanga) and Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina, Camron said he wouldn’t have had the chance to attend, so his number one suggestion to anyone who would like to be involved in future congresses is simply to step up, and get involved in your union.
By Asher Wilson-Goldman