Seven years ago, I joined Tasmanian ANMF Branch Council. I joined to find my voice. I joined to fulfil that desire to be an advocate for those who don’t have a voice.
However, this action has led to an interesting deliberation. In my day-to-day work, I began hearing challenging questions from my peers and those I was managing: Don’t unionist and always managers clash and isn’t there a conflict of interest between being a Nurse Unit Manager and an ANMF Branch Council President? My answer has always been … no.
The rationale for my answer is straightforward. Unions exist to represent the rights and interests of workers. Unions provide advocacy for their members.
This is precisely the same as the philosophy behind what nurses and midwives do: we are advocates for our patients, we stand up for their needs, and we protect their human rights and dignity. Nurses and midwives are guided by evidence, research, human rights, laws, ethics, safety, and legislation.
Both tenets, as unionist and nurse, guide my decisions. When I am asked what my union leave entitlements are, I can point to the direct clause in my nursing award that states what leave is available. This entitlement does not give me wriggle room, however, it is black and white legal document. The document is not created for personal interpretation or ignoring content that you don’t agree with.
Being Branch President and a Nurse Unit Manager involves wearing different, but similar, hats. But both roles involve representing those who don’t have a voice or whose voice has not been heard.
For example, recently on a shift I had to both advocate for a patient who wanted to stop life-saving treatment, and represent a staff member who had a dispute with the manager. Both roles involved being an advocate.
Conflict occurs between unions and employers when rules are bent, ignored or misinterpreted. So how can I be a unionist and Nurse Unit Manager without this conflict of interest? I simply abide by the written rules that guide both practice and employment conditions. I respect confidentiality of the workplace and remember my rights when it comes to speaking out when I witness a wrong.
It’s that straightforward.