Stand Together launch speech

At PSA Congress 2016, our national secretaries Erin Polaczuk and Glenn Barclay gave a speech formally launching Stand Together, our campaign for quality public and community services, and our members who work hard to deliver them.

PSA national secretaries Erin Polaczuk and Glenn Barclay launch Stand Together

PSA national secretaries Erin Polaczuk and Glenn Barclay launch Stand Together.

I am proud to stand here as a member of the union movement, as one of many who lead in our movement – like all of you.

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.

To make sure they got a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – and that everyone went home safe at the end of the day.

That workers had a voice at the management table.

That men and women should be paid fairly and equally.

It seems incredible that more than two centuries later, we are still fighting for those same fundamental rights.

But that’s why we’re still here – still standing together.

And that’s why we’re launching this campaign.

The market has not taken care of us.

Left to its own devices, it will never care about us.

And in fact, it’s not a living, breathing thing – the market has no consciousness and no conscience.

The market has no values.

But human beings have values.

We believe in things.

We believe in fairness – community – society. In family, freedom and the right to determine your own path in life. In manaakitanga. In whakawhanaungatanga.

The PSA has a set of values which I don’t think we talk about enough.

First, we champion members’ interests.

That means we stand together, supporting and empowering our members, individually and collectively.

Secondly, we take a stand for decent treatment and justice – embracing diversity and challenging inequality.

We act with professionalism, integrity and respect.

Thirdly, we are a progressive and constructive union.

We constantly seek solutions that improve members’ working lives.

Finally, we encourage participation from members.

These values are the ties that bind us together – and the net that catches us when we fall.

We want to reclaim those values for our members.

We will stand together with each other – no matter who’s in trouble.

Reclaiming the values

The 1980s and 1990s were not a good time for workers.

We were sold the idea that greed is good.

That happiness came not through fulfilling work and family life – but from a fat wallet.

The market collapse left a very few people richer – but most much poorer.

People who’d left good jobs to set up their own businesses were left scrambling for a very few vacancies.

When they managed to secure a job, the Employment Contracts Act left them without a collective voice.

The market divided, and the market conquered.

Workers were on their own.

There was no way of knowing what the person next to you had agreed with the employer.

No way to take action when times got tough.

If you don’t like your job, employers said, go and get another – if you can.

You’ll easily be replaced.

The government hacked away at the union movement.

They gutted the regions.

They forced everyone into a world where the workplace is competitive, lacking in transparency and often unfair.

Over the past decade, the changes have become less savage – and more insidious.

This is Bill English’s “incremental radicalism” in action.

It looks like budget cuts – hollowing out of legislation – the infamous “investment approach”.

We’ve seen a slow brutalisation of our members and the communities they serve.

Public services have been held together by the goodwill of our members, working overtime, giving up their weekends to do their jobs.

But now we see them starting to fray at the edges.

Our values - and our sense of our own value - have been directly challenged.

But now, we’re turning that around.

The PSA’s growing because we stand for a better working life.

We have your back, and you have ours.

Only by standing together will we make a real difference.

And we are making a difference.

Look at the Auckland Allied Health dispute.

Our members stood firm - showed the public what they’ve already lost – and what more they could lose if the health system starts to crumble.

In aviation security – we carried small signs through airport security saying, we stand with you. We support you.

It was a small way to tell our members we value them, but it was a glimmer of hope – in the middle of a bruising dispute.

Our members in the Maori Land Court have hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge that’s a taonga to their regions.

They’re facing big changes – but we’ve helped them get their voices heard.

They know we’re standing with them.

The PSA Rūnanga’s drawn up and completed Ngā Kaupapa - a set of principles for engaging with Tikanga Māori in the workplace.

As you’ll hear about later this afternoon, it promotes unity and strength for our Māori members.

In the equal pay campaign, the PSA was an integral part of the negotiations that followed the Kristine Bartlett case.

We sat at the table with Business New Zealand and the Crown – and found a way forward.

More than ten thousand Kiwis signed a petition saying it’s time for Equal Pay.

We stand together – because together we’re stronger.

So – every campaign begins with sound research. To this end, earlier this year, we commissioned some research about public perceptions of PSA members and the services you deliver.

We asked ordinary New Zealanders  to tell us what they thought about public and community services.

Who provides them, how they’re paid for and whether they get value for money.

We started by asking what people think of public servants.

To start with – they said all the usual stuff.

Too much waiting, locked in the past, not innovative.

All that rhetoric the government’s been spouting for years.

But after they thought about who delivers those services and what they do, people changed their tune.

We showed them a list of people who deliver public and community services every day and they kind of work they do:

  • The people who work to maintain our national parks and protect our special plants and animals
  • The people who make sure that our food is safe to eat
  • The people who examine shipping containers coming into the country to keep out unwanted pests like snakes and spiders
  • The people who work at the education review office to assess, reports on, and makes sure that public schools meet the requirements they need to
  • The people who make sure other people get their passports on time and who manage the arrivals process when you get back home
  • The people who manage, run and work in government-owned prisons throughout New Zealand
  • All the people working at your local council, managing things like: rates, libraries, rubbish collection, recycling and roading
  • The staff who work in the courts and police force
  • The people who work at ACC processing and managing accident claims
  • The staff who oversee the benefit system, making sure people get their entitlements
  • Those managing the stock of state housing to make sure that people have a place to live
  • The person who visits low decile schools to check kids for rheumatic fever, the vision hearing technician that does the before school checks that ensure kids are able to learn unimpeded by sight or hearing impairments

And guess what. After working through this list, the focus groups changed their tune.

They admitted they’d been unfair, and they regretted what they’d said. In fact, here’s a verbatim quote:

Now I’ve have thought about it maybe I was a bit cruel about the public service because there are all those other people serving the government that we couldn’t do without. They probably do a damn good job so I regret saying all of that.

And what we learned from this is simple.

The public service – in the broadest possible terms – is made up of people.

People like you.

People who work every day to deliver innovative, cost-effective, people-centred solutions.

You are the people who build our communities, put in your time and effort often for free, to make your towns and cities and the whole country better.

So where do we go with that?

What we know is that the government doesn’t make the case for public services often enough.

They don’t explain to taxpayers where their money goes – and what they get in return.

And they don’t explain that the public service is people.

We think it’s time to change that.

And we know that if we talk about the kind of work you do, it changes people’s minds.

Local heroes and Stand Together

So we think New Zealanders need to know about our members and to re-value the services you deliver.

When ordinary members of the public remember the work you do and who you are, they call you footsoldiers. Local heroes.

That’s why in June we launched this campaign to PSA members, asking you to nominate people in your workplace - as your Local Heroes.

The people who do a great job all day every day.

The people who go the extra mile to help people when they need it.

Like you, they know and love their communities.

The response has been amazing.

slide 5Local heroes are librarians, like Sally and Zainab.

Sally was nominated by Zainab because she always stands up for the little people.

She is hard working, and dedicated to staff, and ready to give a hand.

They are people like Jacki Te Rangi and Linda Kerr.

Jacki nominated Linda for being a role model in their workplace.

Not only have both of them come through cancer, but Jacki shared with us that Linda continued to work despite struggling with side effects from her medication.

Linda also set up a group for other cancer survivors, and they meet once a month to share in mutual support.

And our local heroes are PSA members like Mary who work as mental health consumer advocates.

Not only does Mary have a vital role supporting people suffering from mental illness, but she’s also a talented poet who writes and publish poetry as a release from her work.

To meet more of our local heroes, we took the show on the road in recent months.

We wanted to see where you work, and hear what you think.

What matters to you and to your colleagues.

The Roadshow

Going around the country was more than just a test of our navigation skills.

It showed us how central our members and their jobs are to New Zealand’s heartland.

We met our members.

slide 4Capital and Coast DHB admin and clerical staff were the first people we met as part of the road show.

They really reinforced to us the importance of those working behind the scenes to make our public health system function.

They are the people who prioritise and book your appointments, the people you ring when you are running late for your appointment who can make sure that you still get seen.

slide 3The road show took us to places like Whanganui and Palmerston North, to meet some of the more than three and a half thousand PSA members there.

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.

We also met members like Louise, who looks after liquor licensing, is a mother of two, a netballer, planning a wedding and recently became a delegate.

These are some of the amazing people that make up our union.

They are our taonga.

slide 2Meeting the people who work at the Whanganui Māori Land Court was an eye-opening experience.

Between the people in this photo, there is more than 1000 years of experience in their roles.

This experience shone through in the recent submission to Parliament by our Māori Land Court members on the Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill, which would make huge changes to our laws on Māori land.

It is an example of how our members across the country use their skills and experience to make a difference, not just in their own jobs and lives, but to the very laws that govern our country.

slide 6Our visit to Christchurch was particularly hard, as we heard the stories first hand from members who are supporting people struggling in a post-earthquake environment, while often going home themselves to unresolved housing issues.

PSA members at places like Hillmorton Hospital and Christchurch Community House are struggling with too few staff and too little time to properly support the increasing number of people who need help.

As one member said to us, “Just enough has to do. But just enough is not enough”

We owe it to them to make things better.

Local elections

The next phase of Stand Together has been this year’s local government elections.

We represent thousands of members in the sector.

We know how hard you work, and how much you care.

We want to let all our members know too – and the wider public.

Local government is worth getting excited about.

It’s the branch of government that as citizens we connect with most often.

It’s our local democracy, and it’s close to home.

From libraries and playgrounds, swimming pools and cultural festivals – to fixing broken pavements and picking up rubbish – local government workers make our communities great.

We want to keep you in your jobs.

We want local assets in local hands.

We want voters to reclaim their voice and their vote – local democracy matters.

We want Councils to pay council workers and contractors the Living Wage.

We want iwi rights respected – and diversity promoted.

In the District Health Board sector, the publicly elected members are there to make our voices heard in the health system.

We want better access to services.

Better funding for community providers.

And a solution to the massive crisis facing mental health.

We’ll need candidates for local government and DHBs who share our vision – and increasingly, we are seeing them stepping up.

As this Congress meets, the last of the local election ballots will have arrived in people’s letterboxes.

We will know the outcome in a few weeks, after voting closes on October 8.

If you haven’t voted already, make sure you do when you get home – and remind your friends and colleagues to vote too.

Because we need more people to vote, we need to take back our democracy.

Which brings us to election 2017.

Stand Together is our election campaign.

We’re working on our asks for the 2017 election and we want you to be involved.

We don’t want this to be around rates cuts and tax cuts.

Because we know that means cuts to services and jobs.

If there was fat to trim, fine – but we all know, the fat’s long gone – and the knife is scraping the bones.

We say it’s time to celebrate what we’ve still got – and build on the good. Respect and value you and the work you do.

Looking forward

Deep down, all New Zealanders believe in making this a great place to live.

But here’s the problem.

Good jobs, a warm dry house, a secure future – we all have a right to this.

The current government isn’t delivering these things for ordinary working people.

And often, the people working to deliver the services become the scapegoats.

We want you to be respected and valued.

As a worker, and as a citizen.

As PSA members, we have aspirations – for a better working life – but also for a better life, full stop.

For a better, fairer Aotearoa New Zealand.

As PSA members, we know, because we’re closest to the action, how that could look.

Between now and the end of the year we’ll be developing our election asks for whoever becomes the next government.

We want better pay and working conditions for PSA members.

Equal pay must be a priority.

We need significant increases in investment in public services and DHB budgets.

We need an end to privatisation.

And we need local democracy to be protected and strengthened.

Tomorrow, PSA campaign organiser Conor Twyford will talk to you more about how we’ll reach out to you – to help us put together election priorities that reflect what you, our members, want.

On the campaign front, we’ll be working with other unions to ensure people get out to vote.

Union members will be asked to talk to voters who would vote for a change in government, if they actually made it to a booth.

We also need to talk to those who need a steer on how to vote.

Again, we’re going to need your help.

From our own research, we know that PSA members are highly likely to vote.

With your help, we’ll organise activities and meetings – so we can talk about what matters to members, their whānau, their communities.

We’ll work with allies to make our election issues THE election issues for 2017.

Be part of our campaign – because what we have, the values you believe in, the jobs you do?

They matter.

Today at Congress, you can also have some fun.

Go crazy in the photobooth today. Tell us what you value – what do you want for your family, for your workmates, for New Zealand.

Take part in the workshops tomorrow – and Conor will tell you more about those tomorrow.

We’ve chosen some topics that are dear to members’ hearts – and key to the election. Get stuck into the kōrero.

And when you leave – take some of this energy with you.

Talk to your friends, your family and your colleagues.

Imagine the communities and societies you want to live in – and make that happen.

Next year, we’ll be honest - we want a change of government.

But really, we need more than that.

New Zealand needs a change of heart.

And we’ll get that if we Stand Together.

Kia kaha