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Becoming a delegate: Being an NZNO delegate is an important, rewarding and essential role.

There can be few things as empowering as having a direct influence on how a workplace runs. And that, perhaps, is the key reward of being an NZNO workplace delegate. Imagine the satisfaction of being part of a team negotiating a collective agreement (CA), getting a good outcome for a colleague who has been bullied at work, or even just making sure everyone in your work area is a union member.

Elections for new NZNO delegates will be held from May to October. The elections provide the perfect opportunity for members who want to step up their involvement in the union by taking up the challenge of becoming a delegate. It's not as difficult as it may sound and, one thing's for sure, life will never be dull!

So, what does a delegate do? Most importantly, delegates are "the eyes and ears of the union". This means they make sure there's a union perspective in the workplace, they encourage staff participation in workplace activities and decision-making, ensure all workers are treated fairly, support or represent colleagues facing problems and recruit new members to ensure high levels of union membership are maintained.

Voluntary role

It may seem a big thing to become a delegate, but delegates are only expected to do as much as they feel comfortable doing. It is a voluntary role and no-one can be an expert in every aspect of union work and life.

But it's not that hard; as well as being trained in key aspects of the role, there are always officials, supportive colleagues and experienced delegates on hand to help and guide newer ones. With experience comes confidence; the more experienced a delegate, the more varied and rewarding the activities they can become involved in.

The role has become simpler with recent changes to employment law. Special provisions in the Employment Relations Act now require CAs in the public health sector to ensure delegates and members are involved in decisions that may have an impact on their work/working environment. These new provisions are not just words--public health sector employers must give delegates release time to represent members, including time to communicate and consult with union members.

Paid work time

For example, where CA negotiations are taking place, or a change to roster patterns is proposed, delegates have the right to paid time to talk to union members and ensure members' collective views are properly represented during consultation or negotiations.

Rights for delegates in the private health sector have also been strengthened. From May 6 this year, employers must allow reasonable paid time for delegates to undertake union activities.

There is also employment relations education leave, which provides paid time off work for delegates to attend approved training courses. These are usually run by unions or the Council of Trade Unions, and are aimed at helping delegates gain the confidence and skills they need to be effective. This includes ensuring they are aware of basic work rights, how various laws protect workers, and understand how to get the best results when representing members. These changes show the role of delegates in the workplace is valued and they have a legitimate contribution to make.

So what are the rewards of being a delegate? Unions are democratic bodies and exist to get the best they can for members through collectivism. NZNO is no different. During bargaining, as well as during any workplace change, delegates provide vital two-way feedback from members to the union and back again. This feedback keeps the union in touch with members and ensures negotiations deliver the best possible outcomes. Delegates are the most important link between union officials and members. Delegates know what's going on in the workplace in a way managers and union officials do not.

Delegates are also the first point of contact for staff with queries about workplace issues, be that wages and salaries, leave entitlements, problems or disputes with managers or supervisors. Identifying and empowering colleagues to resolve those issues can be among the most important and rewarding aspects of being a delegate.

Being a delegate can be a pathway to greater involvement in the union, eg becoming a union leader. Some have gone on to become MPs--although that's not compulsory!

Being a delegate can be fun--there are new skills to learn, new friends to make and new experiences to have. So now is an opportune time for members to think about taking the plunge to greater NZNO involvement and becoming a delegate.

Information on delegate elections will be in workplaces soon. If you want to know more about the role, or the election process, ring NZNO's membership support centre on 0800 28 38 48.

Caption: Lynley Mulrine
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Title Annotation:industrial focus
Author:Mulrine, Lynley
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Article Type:Report
Date:May 1, 2019
Words:779
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