Judith Daley

About this interview

Judith Daley tells the story behind her interest in social justice, her decades of activism as a union member, and her wins at the Industrial Relations Conciliation Commission and the following negotiations that had an incredible impact on working women.

Transcript: Judith Daley interview.



Facilitator:                Tell me your story…

Interviewee:             Okay.

Facilitator:                …starting from, as they say, the very beginning.

Interviewee:             Yes.

Facilitator:                So, when did you first get involved in unions?

Interviewee:             Oh, look, until I was in my probably late 20s or - yeah, late 20s - I was probably a very bad employee. I was a bookkeeper and an office administrator; so, I'd go into a company, sort it all out, put in new methods and procedures. By then, the bosses would be very annoyed with me, so then I'd bring in the union, and then I'd leave and go to another job.

Facilitator:                Right.

Interviewee:             So that was my pattern, because it was so easy to get jobs.

Facilitator:                So, when are we talking about, what era?

Interviewee:             I was born in '44, so perhaps 25 years after that? The first union I was a delegate of was the Australian Shipping Officers Association, which wouldn't exist anymore. It would have been gobbled up by the FCU when Kelty did his amalgamations. I went from there to a casual job for three weeks as the bookkeeper for the PSA. I ended up being in that casual accounting job for three years. The huge advantage of having that background was that people came and made all their expenses claims with me, so I had to know which rules were applicable for them to get any of that money, and I was quite tough.

                                 So, they would bring the rule book to me, so I learnt - I knew a lot of that. Then there was a vacancy for an industrial officer. There's a little irony, inasmuch as a left-wing woman was the General Secretary at that time. I applied to her, and she just said, no, you don't have the right qualifications. Closed the door. Shortly after that, she lost the election, and a right-wing man came in. That man is still alive, and if you read the Herald letters, he's Alan Gibson from Cherrybrook. He's still writing letters.

                                 So, I went to Alan and said I wanted to have a go as an industrial officer, and he said, okay, go for it. I then became an acting industrial officer, and after a little while, I got a permanent position as an industrial officer. This coincides with Gough, and this is a very important part of the story. Gough was in power and Clyde Cameron had recognised there were lots of people like me who left school at 15 and a half, had never had the opportunity to get any other education, so he established the Trade Union Training Authority. And the PSA encouraged me to go to anything I applied for. And I applied for anything and everything.

                                 I went down to the Albury, a wonderful building which is now a private hospital. I went down there many times for intense two-week courses and that sort of thing. So, because of that on-the-job training, it wasn't long before I was running cases in both the Industrial Relations Conciliation Commission and the Industrial Relations Commission. I must say, I was very enthusiastic and probably didn't know really what I was doing.

                                 In about '88, Nick Greiner was the Premier of New South Wales. He had stood on a platform that he would change the industrial relations and arbitration system to stop all the strikes.

                                 So, he made it compulsory that employers had to have conferences with the employee groups to prevent the go slows, the work to rules, the strikes. And by that stage, I had been allocated various vocational groups in the Attorney General's department.

Facilitator:                So, you were looking after them in your role as industrial officer.

Interviewee:             Yes, as an industrial officer. So, if they had a dispute, if someone got bullied or something like that and they rang the union, they'd be put through to me if they were one of my groups. So, there were the transcription typists, the court monitors, the whole of the births, deaths and marriages, various other groups. My role also involved meeting with the delegates of those groups on a quarterly basis. They could contact me at any time, but if there was any sort of dispute happening, they should raise it at that quarterly Vocational Branch meeting.

                                 So, they'd all come into the city, to the Clarence Street office of the PSA. They'd all get tea money, and then we'd go to the nearest pub or something when the meeting was over. Sometimes, these meetings were fairly ordinary. Nothing much had happened in that time, but there could be, for example, a new manager who came in and said, well, instead of doing 12 pages of this transcript, you've got to bump it up to 15. Well, that's an efficiency thing. You can't just do that increased efficiency for nothing, so that's something that needs to be negotiated.

                                 So, while all of this would be going on in one sphere, the Reporting Services Branch of the Attorney General's department would be holding monthly compulsory conciliation conferences. And as I got to know the skill requirements, particularly of the transcription typists and the court monitors, I recognised there was a huge disparity. Transcription typists were in the main in some back suburban office somewhere, where the rent was cheaper. They were most often married women with children. They were casual employees, so they could have the school holidays off to look after the kids. Sometimes, they weren’t, but they would apply for it. And they had amazing skills.

                                 In those days, they were using electric typewriters. They had to be able to type at least 60 words a minute. They were listening to recordings, so they had to have a very wide vocabulary. They had to understand medical terms, engineering terms. They had to be unfazed by rough street language. They'd listen to that language all day. Then they'd go home, and their kids would say, “shit, mum”, and they'd get a smack. So, it was just amazing.

                                 And then those women had to proofread each page to make sure there were no typos or spelling errors or anything like that, and then they had to sign and date that the page was a correct copy of the transcript. Big responsibility. Sometimes judges would be waiting for sections, so they'd be under pressure as well.

                                 The court monitors, meanwhile, were actually located in the various courts. Up until then, the court recordings had been done by a very, very elite group of employees called court reporters. And these used those funny little shorthand type machines, and they had amazing speeds, amazing skills: they were very highly skilled and very highly paid and very jealous of their positions understandably. The Department of Attorney Generals or the public sector generally were starting to bring in things like recordings for these court cases. And in those days, it would just be a desk at the back of the room with a reel to reel plonked on it. 

                                 The court monitors had to make sure that the wheels on the reel to reel were turning and the indicators were waving to and fro to indicate they were recording. They had headphones on and they could listen if they wanted. Unless there was some sort of malfunction, that's all they had to do, so they could sit there and study. They were mainly uni students who were studying something or other, and they kept one eye on this thing, and if the reel stopped for any reason or the tape ran out, they just had to stand up and say, Your Honour, we need five minutes to fix this.

                                 Sometimes, they'd have to call in some special technician if it was a proper fault. And for that they were paid grade three/four, and they were permanent employees with all the advantages that being a permanent employee entails, although they were required to start at the very strict time that courts required, they could also accrue flex time, because the courts would frequently go over time. So, they could take a day off every now and then. So, the comparison between the two groups was just amazing.

                                 The lower paid, more highly skilled were the women. The higher paid and the less skilled were mainly men, although there were some women who were determined they weren't going to just work in an office and be a typist. So, they were doing uni degrees of some sort. So, the largest group of the transcription typists were located at an office in Hurstville, and there were 60 of them on one floor, so when you walked in, there was just this noise of 60 electric typewriters going.

                                 So, I started to go out there to find out what their conditions were like and, I mean, getting to Hurstville from the city was easy enough. There were two women who worked in that office, Kerrie Andrews and Joy Watson, who were typical married women with children, casual employees, but highly, highly skilled, hugely clever women. So, when they started coming in for their quarterly meetings, I brought up what was an insane suggestion at the time that these two groups should be amalgamated into one, and because there were advantages for the department in that, because they were trying to streamline the number of vocational groups. But you could get a better distribution of the skill sets that were required for the jobs.

                                 Now, the transcription typists and particularly Kerrie and Joy just grabbed this idea and ran with it. The monitors were not enthusiastic at all. It took 18 months of negotiations to finalise this job redesign. There were two occasions where the manager of the Attorney General's Reporting Services Branch tried to stop the negotiations, because he could see by then it was going to be advantageous in one way but it was going to cost more money, because the trainee typists were not going to keep doing that work for that money.

                                 Anyway, they both had to go to the Industrial Relations Conciliation Commission, and I won both those cases, so that was great. Negotiations continued. Toward the very end, myself and a woman from the HR department of the Attorney General's did a tour of all the courthouses in New South Wales to explain personally to the PSA members their (AG) employees on both sides exactly what we were proposing. The two vocational groups had to vote in favour of it.

                                 Well, the transcription typists vastly outnumbered the court monitors anyway, so even though the court monitors voted against it, it got through because so many women wanted it. The end result was that the transcription typists were given some sort of assertiveness training so that they could still utilise all the skills they already had, but they would learn to go into court, and if the judge said, look, we'll keep this running for another hour, they would be able to stand up and say, no, sorry, Your Honour. I've got babysitting arrangements. I can't stay.

                                 So, they were taught those sorts of assertiveness training things, which helped them enormously in so many ways in their life.

Facilitator:                That was provided by?

Interviewee:             That was provided by the department. It was one of the things we negotiated.

Facilitator:                Okay. So, you expressly negotiated in the transition?

Interviewee:             Absolutely. We also negotiated that all of the court monitors would be given intensive touch-typing training and they would also be given - I don't know how you can be given vocabulary training, but they had to widen their vocabularies to take in anything a court was likely to be talking about, and to understand accents as well. The court monitors didn't have to do any of that if they didn't want to, but the new position of sound reporter was going to be a permanent position at grade five/six, so the women went from casual one/two to permanent five/six. They thought I was made of gold.

Facilitator:                Sure enough, too.

Interviewee:             The court monitors were grandfathered. They could stay - you understand what that means?

Facilitator:                Yes.

Interviewee:             They could stay exactly as they were forever if that's what they wanted, but they were grade three/four. If they wanted to get to five/six, they had to pick up all these other skills. Some of them did. Some of them would never even go to the classes, and that was their choice.

                                 In that time, individuals having their own computer and doing their own report writing was still coming in, so men thought typing was women's business, particularly if they thought they were an executive man.

                                 Some of these uni students thought they were executives in the making.

Facilitator:                Right. In the making, yeah. Okay, so the impact for these women, what…so…

Interviewee:             Astronomical, astronomical. They could still take time off in the school holidays, but they had to apply for it as leave without pay, which is what happens when a permanent person - yeah, that's right. There were almost no disadvantages for the women who had been the transcription typists. And their role had - it was just one of those things that grew and grew and got more and more complex without anyone ever taking up the baton for them. So, it really was a wonderful, wonderful inspirational thing to happen.

Facilitator:                Absolutely. So that was what, Greiner, '88?

Interviewee:             Yeah, so it would have been in the early '90s, because it didn't happen immediately: it took 18 months for all these negotiations, on and on and on, drip feeding all this stuff. It is a huge advantage for the department, and it's - okay, it might have initially been at cost for them, but they couldn't keep abusing that vocational group of transcription typists anymore.

Facilitator:                Why not?

Interviewee:             Well, because they insisted it was the Premier's decree that we had to have consultations, and if we were going to have consultations, we've got a right to say what we're pissed off about. And these women had this huge battery of skills that were really taken for granted. They were really taken for granted. And it's obscene for the department to continue using all those skills and not paying proper recompense for it.

Facilitator:                So, what made the department - so what was the catalyst? Because they could have just said, oh well.

Interviewee:             They could have, and that’s what the Reporting Services Branch Manager tried to do, because all these women going from casual one/two to permanent five/six was a lot of money. But there were lots and lots of long discussions about the ethics of abusing this skill set. Kerrie and Joy in those meetings were just wonderful.

                                 They lived that job, and they sometimes went to court and saw how much other people were paid, and they had more skills than them. So, after these - if these negotiations had fallen over, there was a very real possibility that up to 80 per cent of the transcription typists would have retired from that department. They could have got the same money cutting sandwiches, and they made that obvious. And now, here, they were going to be stuck with no one to do the judges' typing. Make up your mind, mate.

Facilitator:                Fair enough. That's a fantastic – I mean what a fantastic…

Interviewee:             Oh, it was. It really, really was. And people like the manager of the Reporting Services Branch had simply never considered these inequities. Look, the transcription typists had sort of been there forever.

Facilitator:                It just hadn't occurred to them in the same way.

Interviewee:             No. No. No one recognised what they really did.

Facilitator:                And what was the composition like of the conciliation meetings, were there… the management was that men, women?

Interviewee:             Both. When we would have the meetings with the department, the compulsory conciliation conferences, there would be the Manager of Reporting Services Branch, a male, and his PA, female, and there would be me as the industrial officer, there would be two female transcription typists, and there would be two male court monitors. So, we were fairly evenly distributed.

                                 Joy and Kerrie were - they didn't ever out-shout anyone or anything like that. They very quietly stipulated what they did. And when they would say to the court monitor who was sitting across the room from them at the same table, what do you do? Oh, we study. Look, it was graphic. It was so graphic. And I truly do believe, if this hadn't gone through, huge numbers of those women would have walked.

Facilitator:                Yes. Okay.

Interviewee:             But they were certainly able to convince the Reporting Services Branch Manager that they were going to.

Facilitator:                Right, okay. So, they knew there was some ramifications if they didn't change.

Interviewee:             Absolutely, yeah, that's right. We only started these compulsory conferences because the Premier had said we had to.

Facilitator:                It's ironic.

Interviewee:             It's wonderful. It's just such a delicious irony.

Facilitator:                Judy, that's a fantastic story. I mean, I'm really glad we're capturing it. But I'm also really interested in you and your story, because you were part of that bigger win.

Interviewee:             Yes, I was.

Facilitator:                But you started by saying, well, I was sent out to help redesign things, and then if it went bad, I’d call the union. And I want to just go back a bit to that and…

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                …and find out a bit more about why you would do that, do you have a family history of unionism?

Interviewee:             No.

Facilitator:                Was there an event that sparked it? I just would really love to know what it was that catalysed you into unionism.

Interviewee:             Yes. No, I don't have a family history of unionism. My mother and stepfather ran small businesses, shops or pubs or those sorts of things. It was long before the days of supermarkets. And in my working life, there's always been full employment for people like me, so I could get a job and walk out and get a job, and it was easy to do that. And I suppose I started by not liking the treatment of some of the people and thinking, oh, I don't like this. I'm moving on.

                                 So, I did those sort of - I didn't know anything about unions until I had moved to Sydney. I came here when I was 26, and that was when I got involved.

Facilitator:                From where?

Interviewee:             Oh, I've been a vagabond. I'll give you the brief history. When I was six and my sister was three, and we lived in a tiny town on the north coast of New South Wales called Wardell, my mother ran away with us with a man who was 27 years older than her. This was 1950, and it was such a scandal, even her own siblings didn't speak to her for a couple of decades.

                                 They stopped running when they got to Adelaide, and we lived in various shops and businesses and farms and that sort of thing. About six addresses I think.

                                 Mum and my stepfather always insisted on Kay and I going to the local Catholic schools. So, in those days, local Catholic schools had many of the European refugees there, Latvian and Lithuanian and Polish and those countries. But the first injustice, the serious injustice I can remember, was that my mother was the hero of the tuckshops, so although she had her own business, her own shop, she gave two or three days a week at the tuckshop.

                                 And then the nuns found out that she was living in sin, so she was forbidden to come to the school for anything, not for our final concerts or our Holy Communion or our Confirmation. She was forbidden. So that was my first injustice, and boy, that sticks. It really does.

Facilitator:                Wow, that's huge.

Interviewee:             Oh, it was huge, Sarah, it really was huge when it happened. There were other injustices involving the Catholic hierarchy, I suppose, but they taught social justice. They just didn't live it.

Facilitator:                Yes, I understand that dilemma…

Interviewee:             Yeah. So, when I was about 18, we left Adelaide and moved to Ballarat, where they bought a pub. I lived in Ballarat for - until I was 21 or 22. Then I went overseas for a couple of years - everybody in those days did. Went to England for six months, and then went to work in Spain for the American Air Force, who were still there as part of the Conventions following World War II. And then I was there for about 18 months, and Mum was becoming increasingly unwell, so they told us to come back. So, we came back, and we said, look, you go and have a holiday, because you haven't had one for ages. We'll take over the pub. And

Facilitator:                When you say “we'll”, you and your sister?

Interviewee:             My sister and I. She was travelling with me, too. And when my mother came to New South Wales, very luckily, she got a cold. She went to the local GP, and he claimed that he recognised her medical condition the minute she walked in because of the way she was walking. The whole time she'd been in Ballarat, she'd been very unwell and was losing the use of her left side. It started with her hand and her arm and then her leg, and they were sending her to a psychiatrist and said it was all psychological, she really, if she wanted to, she could, but here, take these pills. So, she was completely addicted to their medication, and in fact, she had a brain tumour.

                                 So, she was taken out to Prince Henry Hospital, and David Gonski - the current David Gonski's father - was a professor, and he operated on her. She made a marvellous recovery. She learnt to walk and talk again. It was benign, so she went on and lived until she was 73. But by then, we sold the pub, moved to New South Wales, and that's when I became first involved with the union.

                                 And then I got the opportunity to work at PSA for those three weeks, which turned into three years in the Accounts Department and 10 years as an industrial officer. I loved the PSA, and I loved that job. I had a really big difficulty with the left and right factions. A department would be classified as left or right.

Facilitator:                A department of the members that you were looking after or within the PSA?

Interviewee:             Within the PSA, they would consider that state departments like the Anti-Discrimination Board were lefties, Prisoners were righties. So, if a person from the Anti-Discrimination Board rang the PSA and got put onto a right-wing member of a faction, they would refuse to take the call. And I had great difficulty with that, because if you're paying your member's dues, you're paying your member's dues.

                                 So, for the first 10 years, I wasn't really strong-armed about going on a tick book, but after 10 years, I was.

Facilitator:                Can you explain a tick book?

Interviewee:             Yes, it means that you are putting in a part of your salary to support the right-wing or the left-wing faction. Although I was fundamentally a left winger, I was not going to go into a tick book and then not be able to help the right-wing departments. I just simply was not going to do it, so I left, and I got a job with the Human Rights Commission as a conciliation officer, doing sex discrimination and disability discrimination, and I was also the union delegate while I was there.

Facilitator:                Okay. Carry on.

Interviewee:             Then I got - Wood Royal Commission had happened, and the Department of Education were setting up a child protection investigation unit, which is basically work related, so I got a job with that department. Very long, complicated story, but I ended up working there for the last 14 years of my working life doing that work.

                                 Just before I left the PSA, I had been appearing before Barrie French, Commissioner Barrie French - you know Barrie? He's done so much for women and men in the union. I'd been before Barrie in the Industrial Relations Conciliation Commission, and he sent his associate out and said, “the judge wants to see you”. Of course, you tremble and think, what have I done wrong? Even though I'd just won the case, what have I done wrong?

                                 So, he said to me, “I run a course Thursday nights, Labour Council, want you there”. Not, “are you interested, have you got time?” - nothing. So, I did his course, and then he sat us an exam, and then he said, well, come back and I'll tell you the exam results. He then said, well, you've all just done the first subject of a university degree. If you're interested, I'll help you write a submission for you to get into UTS.

                                 So, on the basis of that job redesign, which he knew about because he'd been the commissioner who'd handled the two disputes, the ratification of the final thing had to go to the full Industrial Relations Commission, so that was done in the commission. So, he helped me write that submission to UTS, and I went straight into a master’s, Master’s of Business in Employment Relations, which I loved. Three years' night school. I was 49 when I started. And then by the time I'd finished that, I was working with Department of Education and Training, doing this child protection investigation. So, we were investigating allegations of physical, emotional or sexual abuse by an employee against a student.

                                 Now, anyone who went onto a Department of Education premises - didn't matter if they were a plumber, a taxi driver, a parent doing reading relief, under the ombudsman's legislation we were working under, they were classified as employees. Now, mainly, we were investigating teachers or the support staff, but there were also other people who were in our net. Some people for reasons I will never understand didn't want the allegations their children had made investigated, particularly if they were sexual, because they feared salacious coverage.

                                 So, I decided I would go and get a private investigator's licence, which I did by doing a six-month TAFE course. So, then I could turn up at these people in my business suit and certain gravitas, saying I'm not just a public servant, I'm a licenced PI. And they would often let me do the investigation. I, sort of, shot myself in the foot, because some of them were very hard investigations. That's okay.


Facilitator:                So, during all that time, you were also the union delegate.

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                Were there any issues that you were dealing with industrially in that role during that time?

Interviewee:             Oh, yes, lots. Some employees develop bad habits in the execution of their job from day one. If they don't have a proper supervision, they don't know they're doing it wrong. They don't know they're slacking off, and by the time they've been slacking off and doing it for two years, and when a new supervisor suddenly pulls them up, they're horrified, because no one else has ever complained.

                                 My cry always was why don't the managers manage? Most of these things were because the managers didn't manage. There was a really graphic example of a young man who had worked in one of the worker's compensation areas for the Department of Education and Training, and if everyone else in his team was submitting - I'm going to make the figures up, 12 cases a week, he was doing four. As the delegate, I was called in. He had to be put on a performance improvement program, so that he could actually understand, which was time consuming. I had to go and sit with them, while he was retrained..

                                 He was still having trouble reaching the standard that the others were at, so the manager proposed that we allow him to just do eight of these per week, and everyone else could keep doing their 12. I had to say, I'm sorry, that's simply not acceptable. You cannot have one union member getting preferential treatment over the other. If you're saying eight's good enough, everyone will drop to eight. You know, why don't the managers manage? I can't tell you how many - I was the union delegate for number 1 Oxford Street. At that time, there were about 300 public servants in that - state public servants in that building. So, there was a lot. I know.

Facilitator:                Absolutely, so going back again, so when you came here, you said that's when you got involved with the union, that was the Shipping Officers Association, because you were working in…

Interviewee:             I worked for H. C. Sleigh. Now, Mr Charles Sleigh was one of the [original successful traders]. He got the keys to the City of Sydney and those sorts of things. H. C. Sleigh owned - they were a shipping company. They did a lot of the merchant shipping. They were tourist managers for the Italian line Lloyd Triestino, and they owned Golden Fleece Service Station. So, they were a very large Australian company.

                                 In the time that I was there, they were taken over by Caltex. That's why Golden Fleece no longer exists and those sorts of things. But yeah, that's where I cut my union teeth, working for H. C. Sleigh, and that involved a broad range of things, because they had so many fires - so many irons in so many fires.

Facilitator:                So, could you give me an example - because I'm interested about what it was, that for someone who hadn't had involvement, in fact had a family background in small business, what it was when you were in this environment that made you be the person who went to the union. What was it that ever, one prompted that, and two what do you think it was about you that it was you and not someone else who perhaps was doing that work?

Interviewee:             I think the reason it was me was because I'd had that Catholic education - I was no longer a practicing anything, but I'd had that social justice underpinning, even though I'd seen such a ghastly example of it and other examples as well. Now, my personal circumstances in all this time was that when I was 30, so that was just about the time I was going - well, I knew Bob when I was at Sleigh, toward the end of H. C. Sleigh as well. So around about 29, 30, I met this man who was 42. We had been going to a WEA course, you know, the workers - yeah - called Going to the Theatre, so every second week we would go to the theatre, and every other week, we'd come back and discuss it.

                                 I'd just had a disastrous relationship breakup. He'd been separated from his wife for 18 months. I didn't know why, but when we eventually hooked up, he said to me, look, I really don't want to start a relationship, because I've got a serious heart condition and I've been given six months to live. So, I had a cigarette…


                                 …and then I said, ah well, we can have some fun in six months, but it took the bugger 33 years to die.

Facilitator:                That's impressive.

Interviewee:             Absolutely, so while all this work stuff was going on, I was the wage earner, because he was ill. He did work for maybe five years in the early days. Within that six-month period when he was supposed to die, he had innovative surgery at St Vincent's Hospital. Dr Mark Shanahan was the lead surgeon. But Dr Victor Chang was the surgeon who probably did most of the work.

                                 Bob was the third person in Australia to have the surgery and the first one to live, and then they said, oh, well if he lives through that, he might get eight years. Now, he was a metallurgist. He was the scientist, a professional man. He treated his medical condition like a scientific experiment. He was not trying to make friends with his doctors. They would say to him, look, we're going to do this, and he'd say, well I'll think about it. And often it had been - I can't tell you how many emergency admissions he had to hospital. So, he'd be in hospital, they'd be trying to work out how to handle this current thing, and then he'd given them a written list of questions, and he would say, when you've answered those questions, I'll let you know what I think.

Facilitator:                Nice.

Interviewee:             Oh, very nice, but gee, they didn't like it. But we do believe - we seriously believed that some of the questions he asked led to modifications, and that helped the success. Like, he had some really cutting-edge things. He was in St Vincent's for 10 days once while they were ablating his thyroid with nuclear medicine. He was too sick to have the operation, but he was getting a really serious reaction to the only heart medication that was left for him, so they had to get rid of his thyroid, so they zapped him with radiation every day.

                                 His door was closed with skull and crossbones on it. He could only use plastic utensils and paper towels, and yeah everything. It was an amazing experience, and he had so many innovative things. So, when I would go home and say, oh look, this commissioner wants me to go to night school, he'd say, well do it, because he was going to die at any minute. And we knew that if I stopped working, it would be really hard for me to get back into the workforce. So, I kept working, so…

Facilitator:                Okay So I'm still - that's an amazing story altogether.

Interviewee:             Okay, yes - yes.

Facilitator:                So, you started with that, well, there was a social justice aspect, which stayed with you despite that…

Interviewee:             The huge social justice story that led to me becoming a union activist at H. C. Sleigh was that I had a hysterectomy. I was only 32, and we think the surgeon may have nicked my bowel, because then I got septicaemia and I got an abscess in the bowel cavity.

                                 I was on nil by mouth for six weeks, and they truly did think I was going to die. I was very fortunate in as much as I was in St Margaret's Hospital, which no longer exists, but that was the hospital that the nuns used to go to, and they had the top floor was reserved for the nuns. So, they put this very sick woman up on the top floor, and I got personalised nursing from two brilliant women - well, two on each shift, actually.

                                 So, I survived that, obviously. And when I went back to work at H. C. Sleigh, they pointed out to me that I'd used all my annual leave, and I'd used all my sick leave, so at least a month of it was going to be leave without pay. Okay, fine. Within months, a young man who worked there, Richard, who was no more skilled in his job than I was, was diagnosed with a form of maybe leukaemia, where he had to have lots of time off. He'd have three days a week and three days a week and three days a week.

                                 And they told Richard, in my presence, that he could have as much time as he liked, and he would be fully paid the whole time. So that was my catalyst.

Facilitator:                Right. And so, what did you do?

Interviewee:             Went to the union and jumped up and down and screamed and ranted and raved, and they wrote letters, and I got a little bit of money back, but not fundamentally. It was still the divide: men and women. But I met a whole lot of new people in the Shipping Officers Association Branch and went to their meetings and…

Facilitator:                Okay, so that was back when the form…

Interviewee:             Yeah, I got my grounding in that, yeah. Also, around about that time, Jack Mundey was doing his green ban stuff. In those days, unions were much more powerful and respected than they are today. Now, we're lucky to have 15 per cent of union members. I'm still a Financial Union member, just because I want to put my money where my mouth is. I'm a member of the Retired Officers Branch of the PSA, for what that's worth. Yes, so…

Facilitator:                Yes. That's interesting. That's a segue to one of the questions I wanted to ask, which is what do you see as the biggest challenges for unions and unionists now and any advice that you might have for particularly young women in the workforce.

Interviewee:             Well, the union - look, people like Sally McManus are just inspirational, but she's a single beacon, and there are so many that are not inspirational. We used to have a saying, united we bargain, divided we beg, and that's still very much true. If people joined their union, they wouldn't be suffering the very, very low wages they're getting at the moment. The increases are less than inflation. I don't know how you can wake them up and make them angry, but you've got to do that.

                                 They've got to become angry, but manage it with controlled anger and not rushes of blood to the head. And they can only change the union movement from the inside. It doesn't matter how many times they criticise it from the outside. It can only change from the inside. So, principled, ethical people have got to join and they've got to make sure they don't do dodgy deals with the employers. And one of the most important principles I believe the unions have got to accept is that if they negotiate any sort of benefit, it only goes to union members.

                                 It was such a ridiculous idea that the unions and their members would fight for the wage increases and then it would flow on to everyone. So, what was the point of being in the union?

Facilitator:                That's a tough one, isn't it?

Interviewee:             Oh, very tough one. Very tough one.

Facilitator:                And what about advice to young women in the workplace? Would you have any advice?

Interviewee:             Women have as much right to be ambitious as anyone else. They have to be very careful that they do it ethically, that they don't sleaze up to someone to get the increase or to get their promotion. That happens all the time. I took the director of the department I was in for Department of Education and Training to the ICAC because she was being unethical. She got a reprimand, but not enough to be dismissed. You've got to be prepared to stand up and be counted. You've got to be the whistle-blower if you need to be.

Facilitator:                And is there anything particularly that you think about you or your character that has made you effectively a leader since, you know, those early days?

Interviewee:             It's hard to talk about yourself like that. I suppose when my mother and stepfather ran away, and we went to Adelaide, we went to all these new schools, they were extremely busy making a living, making sure they had enough money to pay our bloody school fees, so I was the protector of my sister. And that started when I was six or seven. Then, even with Bob, I was still the leader of that pack, because I was the wage earner.

Facilitator:                Okay, So, it was kind of a lifelong…

Interviewee:             Yeah, and even now, I'm on the board of Dying with Dignity, and I have been for about 10 years. I was a candidate in the last state election for the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, and I will be this time as well. There is absolutely no prospect of me being elected, but to be classed as a political party, you have to have 750 members, and then if you want people to vote above the line and 98 per cent of people vote above the line, you've got to have 15 candidates, so I'm one of the 15.

                                 We want our lead candidate, Shayne Higson, to be elected. There's absolutely no prospect any of us will be.

Facilitator:                So that's interesting. So, is that the extent of your political involvement, or has your political involvement been in other ways throughout your career? Aside from the union?

Interviewee:             No, aside from the union, no, I haven't done…

Facilitator:                No formal? Apart from now? This - right, okay.

Interviewee:             Yeah, no. I've marched and gone on rallies and all those sorts of things, written letters and all those sorts of things. After Bob died, I continued working for 18 months, but I knew I couldn't stay in our house without him. I've got a very serious medical condition, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which means I've got emphysema and bronchiectasis. And I thought the sensible thing to do would be to move to a retirement village.

                                 I was 65, so I was well and truly above the age limit. So, I moved to a retirement village. This would be - take another tape for me to tell you in detail. I was there for just under three years. I took them to the tribunal three times. I won the cases, and eventually, they paid me to leave.

Facilitator:                Right, that is a whole other…that’s a whole other tape.

Interviewee:             Oh, Sarah, it is.

Facilitator:                Okay, so…

Interviewee:             So since then, I've been in two Strata buildings, and of course I'm on the Strata Committee in both of them. Need you ask?

Facilitator:                So, you're an incurable activist.

Interviewee:             I can't help it, even though I'm 74.

Facilitator:                Okay, well look, that's absolutely wonderful, and, if you don't mind, I will see if the PSA has got some documents about that…

Interviewee:             Absolutely, yeah.

Facilitator:                And also, if you wouldn’t mind, I'd like to take a photo of you for us to use as well.

Interviewee:             Oh, if you want.

Facilitator:                That would be fantastic. I’ll switch this off.




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union women activism Australia