Blair York, STONZ Treasurer shares his experience of being on the STONZ Executive over the past few years, and why you should consider getting involved with Union leadership.
One phone call from Heath Lash and Earle Savage in mid-2019 has certainly lasted longer than expected. Back in 2019, STONZ was very much a fledgling union and the current treasurer was stepping down so Earle and Heath asked me to step in for a few months to help out. I had some concerns as I was about to head into my fellowship exam, but I was reassured it wouldn’t be too much work.
Walk into 2020 and bang Covid-19 arrives. I don’t think my inbox has ever been so busy; Zoom meetings, Contingency plans, general union work, and negotiations around the corner! It was a busy time, but also an incredibly interesting time to be involved, particularly in some of the high-level meetings around the pandemic planning with the DHBs and CMOs. I feel proud of what our union was able to achieve over that time, we took a pragmatic ‘community first’ approach which was an important step in the right direction for our healthcare workers in the early stages of the pandemic.
Fast forward into 2021 and we were in negotiations again. It would be fair to say that this was the most difficult process during my time on the STONZ executive. A DHB negotiating team that had no ability to negotiate, not because they didn’t want to, but due to the directive of the public service commission and the ‘pay freeze’. Many/most of our members earn more than the upper limit (per annum) meaning that initially there was no chance of a pay increase based on that directive. After a couple of complete stonewalled meetings with the DHB we had to pivot. Because we mostly work more than 40 hours a week, our total take home pay was above the limit of the public services commission so we changed approach and moved to work on base hourly rate models, we argued, and the DHB finally accepted, that actually the pay needed to be worked out off a 40-hour week – finally we started making progress.
Always polite, never rude but regularly very firm and to the point. Negotiations improved and whilst we would have liked to get more, I honestly believe we got the most ‘blood’ out of that stone as we possibly could have got. We have also set up an understanding of our issues for future pay negotiations. Here’s hoping for a better financial environment next time we settle in for negotiations in 2023 – no longer will our employers be able to kick the can down the road and promise more in the future.
So, all in all, 3-years later, and when I look back, I’m pleased that I was able to have a positive effect on the RMO workforce for years to come. With now over 2000 members, we are the only junior doctor union with a council of trade unions affiliate membership (meaning we are always at the table for big picture issues), and are now set up as a sustainable organisation going into the future. The foundations for longevity have been achieved – one of my primary goals.
We are truly a union run by junior doctors for junior doctors, all of us are on the coalface with you, our members. Other than the Accountant, Lawyer and the occasional help with a specific piece of work, everything we do, is done in house. No contracting out the contract negotiations, we do it all as your support team and your executive. We are lucky that we have such an amazing support team that enable us to be both a full time junior doctor and executive members of STONZ.
Moving forward would I recommend being part of the union executive? Absolutely! I have learnt a lot of life skills that medical education just doesn’t teach you (GST returns anyone?). If you get the opportunity to put your hand up, do it - I really have enjoyed it. If anyone’s interested in becoming more involved with the day to day running of the organisation, we are always keen for people to show interest and get involved.
But for now, it’s time for me to sign off, good luck to you all for the remainder of your junior doctor years.
Outgoing STONZ Treasurer