Standing Together in 2017
New Zealand’s general election will be held on 23 September, and the Stand Together campaign is revving up for it. We want to make sure that the issues that matter to PSA members are front and centre when people decide how they’re going to vote.
The PSA isn't affiliated to any political parties. We stay independent so we can focus on getting the best outcomes for our members, no matter which party is in government.
But nonpartisan doesn’t mean the same thing as non-political. Being a union for the public service is already a deeply political thing. The organisations we work for and the services we provide are often foundational in the election debate – especially in health, housing, and social welfare.
Sometimes it’s hard to see that bigger picture. Understandably, we’re caught up in the day-to-day reality of our working lives, and it’s easy to forget about the important part we have to play in determining the future of our society and how the values we hold will shape the direction New Zealand moves in.
With the election around six months away, we’re thinking about what public service means in 2017, and how that underpins the work we will be doing as an organisation before the country heads to the polling booths.
What we do
Last year the PSA asked a range of people what they thought of when they heard the phrase “the public service”. Some people named specific services – like the Police, transport, or local councils. They gave definitions – “support the government” or “service to the community”. Quite a few people talked about negative stereotypes – the idea of faceless bureaucrats in grey suits all sitting in Wellington offices. It’s a familiar and pervasive trope.
But once people were prompted to think of other jobs in the public service – like “people at the Department of Conservation maintaining national parks” or “the people who make sure that food sold is safe to eat” or “people who staff the 111 service to ensure you can get help when you need it” – their attitudes changed.
“I think those are all essential services that we pay our tax for,” said one participant. “We don’t always think of those things as public services – we just take them for granted, I suppose.”
And another said, “All the unsung heroes, all the people who do all that lovely work and we forget about them. The people who manage our roads and pick up the rubbish and do all of that.”
That’s the message we’re taking into the election this year.
We're not just servants. We're heroes.
Every day, PSA members work hard. We help people in need. We strengthen communities. We support businesses to succeed. Without us, not much would get done.
But often, the work we do is invisible. Even we fall into the trap of talking about “public services” without making it clear we’re talking about people: the people who keep the country running. Who make sure the basics are taken care of so New Zealanders can live their lives a little more easily.
When you’re a PSA member, you can be a hero every single day, no matter what your job is. We’re often taken for granted, but we should all feel like superstars.
So a big part of the Stand Together campaign, since it was launched last year, has been about profiling our local heroes. On our website and Facebook page you’ll see photos and stories about “ordinary” PSA members and the extraordinary things they do every day.
The election issues for PSA members
In late 2016, we surveyed delegates, members, sector committees and Te Rūnanga about their priorities for the general election. The results were clear: economic issues like wages and family income for ourselves and the people in our communities are the big issues. Housing, poverty and inequality came in close behind. Funding of public services, including mental health, staffing levels, the environment and the climate were all mentioned too.
People working in public and community services frequently miss out on the kinds of pay rises employers give in the private sector. One reason for that is the lack of funding coming from government. By the time departments and agencies have paid for new equipment or additional staff, there’s not much left to transfer to workers to cover the increased costs of rent, petrol or food.
Stand together for health
An Infometrics study commissioned by the Labour Party and released in June 2015 looked at the growth in health spending – in terms of the basic numbers – and whether it was keeping up with inflation and demographic change. As our population grows and ages, healthcare costs naturally increase.
Infometrics estimated that the health budget was down $1.7 billion on where it had been in 2010. Two years later, the shortfall has grown to an estimated $1.85 billion.
The Yes We Care campaign is a new coalition of people working in health and the community, including the PSA.
The results of their recent workforce survey of healthcare professionals show that 9 in 10 people who work in health feel that the system is under-staffed and under-resourced.
The survey of staff included respondents from First Union paramedics, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, healthcare and hospital support staff from E tū, and the PSA, representing mental health workers, support staff and the allied workforce.
Health staff said funding was affecting access to healthcare, and that their workloads and work pressures were not reasonable.
Having launched successfully, the focus now moves to the nationwide roadshow and building momentum through local support. There are events around the country and we could use your help.
You can find the full list of event dates and locations at fb.com/yeswecare.nz/events.
The Survey of almost 6000 health workers found:
- 90% say the health system doesn’t have the staff and resource required to provide New Zealanders with the healthcare they need when they need it.
- 61% say New Zealanders access to Healthcare over the last five years has decreased.
- 72% say their workload and work pressures aren’t reasonable.
- 84% say their workload and work pressures have increased over the last five years.
- 90% say the Government’s current level of health funding is affecting New Zealanders’ access to healthcare.
- 82% say the Government’s current level of health funding is affecting their workload and work pressure.
Join the campaign
We have public and community services because when we all come together to support each other, everyone benefits. This election, we’re encourage all of our members to be active and engaged in the political dialogue, and in the next issue of Working Life, we’ll be looking more closely at how our members can get involved.
By promoting the contribution PSA members make to New Zealanders’ lives, we can make sure voters support strong, independent public and community services – and so does whoever forms the government.
If you want to get involved in the Stand Together campaign,
like us on Facebook or check out our page on the website. If you’ve got a story you want to tell about how you or your workmates make life better for New Zealanders, drop us a line. PSA members do amazing work on behalf of the public. In many ways, every day, we make life better for Kiwis – we help them live more freely. This year we need to tell that story together.
The PSA will be asking all political parties to support our policy priorities this election. They have been developed following consultation with members about what matters most to you, and we will publish parties’ responses later this year in Working Life.
Below are the principles that guide our policy asks. More detail on specific policies can be found online at www.psa.org.nz/ourvision
Cost of living: social, economic and employment legislation must be designed to reduce inequality.
Housing: restore the integrity of the social housing sector.
Equal Pay: legislation introduced to make it easier for workers and unions to resolve equal pay claims.
Health: New Zealanders are not getting the healthcare they need. We need a substantial increase in government health funding to match unmet need.
Public Sector: a strong public sector is fundamental to a thriving democracy. We need sustainable funding for public services.
Community sector: we want to see responsible government procurement processes that ensure decent employment conditions for workers.
Local Government: the constitutional independence of local government must be supported and strengthened.
Tax: we support the principle of progressive taxation as a means of ensuring the fairer distribution of wealth, and because it sustains strong public services.
Social Security: we support a fair social security system that enables people to live with dignity and enjoy full social and economic participation.
Story by Stephanie Rodgers