|Issue No 41||26 November 1999|
Organiser of the Year
Just ten days to go before entries close for our $2000 air ticket. Here's another nomination.
Gillian Davies - NSW Nurses Association
"You could sell ice blocks to Eskimos"! A saying I have become used to hearing in my seven years as an organiser with the New South Wales Nurses' Association. However, nothing could have prepared me for the scope and intensity of the Craft of Organising and Recruitment course I undertook in 1999. Along with the subsequent realisation that whilst I was selling some ice blocks I was spending more time showing the Eskimos how to keep them frozen.
I have enjoyed a broad education and a varied employment history that I believe has given me an extensive knowledge of employee and work related issues.
On completion of my nursing degree in 1987 I was employed in a variety of nursing positions in the public and private sectors. I gained extensive personal insight into the particular issues experienced by nurses.
In 1993 I was appointed to the position of Organiser in the NSWNA. Comprehension soon dawned on what a major career leap I had taken. The learning 'curve' would be better illustrated by comparing my first year as an organiser with climbing Everest. I soaked up information and developed skills over a period of 6 years until I was confident in my ability to perform as an organiser.
I have organised in the metropolitan private health area, a combined public/private area in the rural sector and am currently in the Illawarra region. I have a commitment to ensuring the rights of nurses and natural justice. A proven record of resolution of workplace and individual issues had the effect of increasing financial membership and workplace representation in all areas.
I considered my transfer to the Illawarra in 1998 to be both a challenge and a compliment. A challenge in that the Illawarra had a known 'difficult' industrial history and a compliment in that my General Secretary had confidence in my ability to meet that challenge.
The Illawarra has a strong trade union movement identity and membership. The private health sector however appeared to actively discourage union membership and I knew that recruitment in this sector could be my nemesis. One of my strategies in tapping into this market was participation in the Craft of Organising and Recruitment course.
PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
Using the public sector initially, I mapped a large health facility and arranged smaller, easy to manage, meetings. I identified activists who, by putting them in touch with the branch executive, were able to divide the workload so no one person felt 'put upon' by union activities. Despite the perception that a particular hospital had 100% membership, the new, 'on the ground' activists were able to sign up new members, and continue to be seen as a union resource person on their individual wards and units.
Nursing homes, where our greatest membership potential lies in the Assistant in Nursing classification are more difficult to 'map'. Identifying a 'good time' to arrange visits can be frustrating and time consuming. The visits may prove to be unsuccessful in the low number of nurses attending. I realised that I had to arrange visits in an 'employer acceptable' way. I knew that the larger employer groups employed nurse educators. I contacted one of them by telephone to advise her that I was able to visit the workplace and present inservice sessions on a number of nursing and professional, as well as, of course, industrial topics and we were able to agree on a date there and then. After the first session there was a 'snowball' effect to other nursing homes throughout the region.
Not surprisingly, the private sector likes to have 'free training'. I request that the sessions have at least ten nurses and the educators ensure nurses attend from other facilities to have maximum attendees. The nurses return to their respective nursing homes talking about the visit and taking Association information back. Managers of those facilities then contact me to arrange a visit rather than the other way around. As the word spread, relationships with employers and managers were established. The union presence was seen in a positive way which potential members quickly realised. I was able to fully utilise skills learnt to wrap up with the recruitment message and finalise the transaction with completed application forms. Within a few short months the Illawarra Area had 10 new branches and 209 new members.
My modus operandi, like many organisers, was 'it'll be alright on the night'. During the course I learnt the very important lessons of listening, preparing, focus and agendas. I was able to see my place in the bigger picture in a bigger world. It is not just about being an organiser but recognising my place within the Nurses' Association and the wider union movement. It is about effectively utilising my influence in the collective whilst recognising the individual.
Through the past few weeks of industrial unrest in the Illawarra I believe I have remained objective and focused. I have been able to set agendas and time frames with confidence. I have realised that I cannot and must not 'service' in this instance. The members had already identified their issue and I was able to facilitate without interfering. They all contributed individual skills in order to plan strategies and move forward. Most importantly however, at the end of the meetings I realised that I did not have any tasks to complete. I thought it would be difficult to 'let go' but it has proved extremely satisfying for me and I believe a worthwhile learning experience for the members.
Australia is experiencing a turbulent industrial period that will continue, I believe, for some time. There is an absolute need to reinvent the union movement to make it relevant and appealing. Learning skills in the art and craft of organising has opened my eyes to the huge potential market and the place I have in the revitalising process both in nursing and the general population.
I would relish this opportunity to network with my international colleagues to learn first hand how the union movement is meeting the challenge head on in other countries. Meeting dedicated unionists and sharing organising experiences will encourage me to bring the dedication and commitment back to Australia to share with my nursing and trade union colleagues.
NOMINATE NOW! - Nominations for Organiser of the year close on Wednesday, December 8. Winner announced at the Labor Council's Annual Executive Dinner on Wednesday, December 15
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ALP tactician Bob McMullan is responsible for charting Labor industry policy into the next millennium. He tells us where he’s heading.
Unions: Organiser of the Year
Just ten days to go before entries close for our $2000 air ticket. Here’s another nomination.
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International: Organised Chaos
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Satire: Too Many Media Players!
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Deface a Face: Reith Loses His Shine
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005