- Tim Bowron
Council of Trade Unions President Helen Kelly has condemned recent strike action by junior doctors employed by district health boards, claiming that it risks giving unions “a bad name”.
In an article published in the Sunday Star Times on April 27, Kelly criticised the Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA) for not supporting the “modern” partnership model of unionism promoted by the CTU as well as unions such as the Public Service Association. According to Kelly’s prescription, instead of taking industrial action the RDA should be joining in the “tripartite forum” already established by CTU unions along with the Ministry of Health and the DHBs to talk through the issues. Moreover, she said, “the RDA focused on industrial matters and lacked wider professional advisers, such as policy analysts, economists, lawyers and advocates.”
Kelly also singled out RDA general secretary Deborah Powell for particular acrimony because of her failure to toe the CTU partnership line, slanderously claiming that she was manipulating the union rank-and-file into taking the path of industrial confrontation, when in fact it was the junior doctors themselves who voted overwhelmingly to strike!
In attacking the junior doctors Helen Kelly has added her weight to the already powerful campaign of lies and deliberate distortions being run by the corporate media, who paint the RDA members as greedy and selfish individuals holding their patients’ lives to ransom in support of an outlandish 30% pay claim.
Never mind that the base rate for highly skilled junior doctors working a 60-65 hour work week is only $23 an hour, and that the figure for the union pay claim is more like 7% each year over 3 years (the additional 9% being made up of compulsory government add-ons like KiwiSaver and penalty payments for working days in excess of 16 hours - which the DHBs could avoid by simply employing more staff).
As Unite leader Matt McCarten wrote in his op-ed piece in the Herald on Sunday on May 4:
…there is a sacred principle among trade unionists: when a group of workers is on strike you support them to the hilt. To side with the boss is the most serious of all crimes.
If Helen Kelly really felt so unhappy about the junior doctors’ strike action, the very least she could have been expected to do would have been to keep her mouth shut and leave the talking to those union leaders who understand that their job is to represent their members’ interests, not act as mouthpieces for government and corporate media propaganda.
Union leaders who side with the boss are the ones most likely to “give unions a bad name’ among workers”.
In the meantime, the industrial dispute remains unresolved, with the DHBs continuing to spend millions on high-priced locums to replace the striking RDA members rather than agree to their just demands. It is imperative that all rank-and-file trade unionists get behind the junior doctors’ campaign and offer their full and unconditional support - even if some in the CTU leadership are not prepared to do so.