A rank-and-file ticket is contesting executive and council positions in the West Australian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) in late October.
Previous ANF elections have been notoriously hushed affairs. Despite the available resources of a union magazine, email list and website, in the past members have not been notified that an election is even taking place, let alone receiving information about positions and candidates.
Information related to existing councillors and executive members is also completely absent.
Since at least 2014 all state councillors and most executive officers have been “elected unopposed” after being the only nominations lodged with the WA Electoral Commission.
When Mark Olson, WA ANF’s secretary for the past 24 years, announced his retirement earlier this year, Janet Reah, a state councillor, was parachuted into the newly-constructed assistant secretary position. Reah was “elected unopposed” as councillor 2014–16 and since then has not held an elected position in the union.
Even more recently, the council has come up with another new position — Chief Executive Officer — and appointed Olson to that role for two years. He has secured himself a horizontal promotion, again without the membership having any say.
Prompted by the union’s lack of democracy and transparency, a rank-and-file group of ANF members decided to contest all available council and executive positions.
Leading the ticket is Samantha Fenn, a theatre nurse at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, who is running for secretary. The ticket includes nurses and midwives, including myself, working in an array of clinical areas.
Fenn contested the secretary position two years ago and won an impressive 25% of the vote after only a 3-week campaign with minimal resources.
The ticket is focused on membership participation and accountability, as well as establishing workplace structures that will enable members to have a real say in the union’s direction.
I was elected an ANF workplace representative in 2018, only finding out later I was the only one for the entire South Metro Health Service. There was no training provided for the role; the message was “best of luck”.
Despite this, there have been some successes around staffing and workplace safety.
The public healthcare system has been at breaking point for years — well before the pandemic. The big public rallies at Perth Children’s Hospital and King Edward Memorial Hospital last year show that members want to be active.
Aishwarya Aswath’s tragic death in PCH’s Emergency Department in April last year, the chronic staff shortages, the ambulance ramping crisis and the insulting below-inflation pay offer for public sector workers are evidence of the urgent need for wide-reaching change.
The strike action by New South Wales nurses and midwives is inspiring us in WA. We need to join with other public sector unions for better wages and conditions and only a democratically elected and representative union leadership can do that.
[Chris Jenkins is running as part of the Samantha Fenn team for a councillor position in the WA Australian Nursing Federation election in October. To help or find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org]