Rita Mallia

About this interview

Rita Mallia is the President of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining & Energy Union, Construction and General Division, NSW Divisional Branch. An official of the Union since 1996, Rita is also a qualified lawyer. Rita commenced employment with the union as an industrial officer. As well and being Branch President, Rita represents the CFMEU as a Trustee Director of United Super (Cbus) board and has Board and Committee membership on other industry bodies. She is a Vice-President of Unions NSW. She also holds the Union’s affirmative action position on the Union’s National Executive and is the President of the CFMMEU National Womens Committee. 

Transcript: Rita Mallia interview.



Facilitator:                So, first of all thank you so much for giving me the time, I know how much pressure is on you at the moment.

Interviewee:             My pleasure. No, no.

Facilitator:                But I think you, in particular, there's layers of your story I think that will be fascinating given the Union that you've come to be a leader in.

Interviewee:             Part of.

Facilitator:                Yeah. But I want to get the full story.

Interviewee:             Okay.

Facilitator:                So how did you first get to be involved in unions, in the Movement and let's go from there?

Interviewee:             Okay, alright. I don't know that I was ever, until I started with the CFMEU, involved in the Movement as such, but my first job was at Grace Bros, like many of us did at the age of 15 and nine months and, of course, I was a member of the SDA at the time. And you got pretty much signed up as you got the job, and so that would probably be my first, I guess, introduction to unions.

                                 Although my dad had been a delegate when he worked with Woollies as a meat worker at one point, and he worked in the public sector. So that was obviously highly unionised, so I was not unfamiliar with the concept of a union and what they did. And then I went to university, after finishing high school, and did an economics/law degree where I did as part of my economics degree industrial relations and got to be taught by the wonderful Suzanne Jamieson.

Facilitator:                Yes, yeah so did I.

Interviewee:             So, I suppose really it was, you know, the influence of being in that particular faculty with her that really opened my eyes up to, you know, trade unionism and the rights of workers, and I was always a bit of a lefty at heart. So, I could never really see myself working either for the big end of town or employers. But you know, you do, you're at university, you're open up to all sorts of different experiences and knowledge, et cetera.

                                 But did really develop a keen interest in industrial relations, which then carried across to when I did finish my law degree. Because I did a double degree, economics/law degree and studied employment and industrial law as part of my law degree, which brought in my interest in constitutional law and other things. Then, as you do, you finish university and you make all those applications to work for all sorts of law firms, including those at the big end of town.

                                 It wasn't really a fit for me, as, you know, a girl that grew up in the western suburbs, I went to public school. I might have a chip on my shoulder about that stuff, but it just seemed like I wasn't kind of the right fit for those law firms, even though I had really good results. Eventually my first job was actually doing immigration. So, I worked for an immigration law firm, fighting the Government to help people to either get their visas or keep their visas. Which is actually, it's a lot of administrative law, very similar to, you know, the way the employment and legal world works.

                                 And then I was, really, I didn't sort of do all the things that sort of traditionally trade union people do. I didn't do student politics, I had to commute from Penrith to Sydney; I focussed on my studies. So, you know, I didn't really do all the sort of student political stuff that a lot of people, you know, interestingly did. Then there was an ad in the newspaper and I, you know, really wanted to get a job in the area that I'd studied, and there was a job going at the CFMEU as a legal and industrial officer, because by then I was a qualified lawyer.

                                 I applied, didn't get the job first time around because I didn't have any experience. But then as it turned out I was interviewed by the senior legal officer of the secretary at the time, so Daniel Reese was the legal officer and Andrew Ferguson was the secretary. It turned out that there was an opportunity where the workers' comp officer was retiring and they asked me if I'd like to do that role.

                                 And I didn't really know anything about workers' comp but, you know, I really kind of wanted to be part of the Trade Union Movement, it seemed like a really interesting job, it was helping people who were injured and, you know, I thought well, I'll learn it, I'll have to learn it. So that's, that’s where I started. So, I ended up being the workers' comp officer. That role evolved into an industrial employment lawyer's job. So, I have now been with the New South Wales branch of the construction division of the CFMEU for 22 years this year.

                                 And then, and then as personnel changed I became head of the legal department, saw us through with a really great team, both of external people and internal people, the Cole Royal Commission. That was my first royal commission experience, although the branch had been through the Gyles Royal Commission in the early '90s. Which I'd sort of, funnily enough, kind of followed in the Daily Telegraph because there was always a big write up about what was going on in that royal commission.

                                 Then continued on with a senior legal role until 2011 where I had the opportunity to throw my hat in the ring for the position of the branch president. But I was really lucky, I worked with really amazing and supportive people, and it is a male dominated union in terms of its membership. It still is, although we do have a growing number of female members. In terms of the Union's leadership at the time, it's all been blokes, but inside our branch there were actually lots of really fantastic women as well.

                                 So, I had the benefit of working with some really great women in the branch, like Keryn McWhinney and Anne Nicholls that, you know, some were, had industrial, you know, legal roles, others were in an administrative role. [Also, wonderful women like Jan Primrose who was then at the AWMU and Mary Yaager at Unions NSW.] Then there were people across the divisions such as Lorraine Usher in the mining and energy division, later on Jane Calvert in our forest and forest products division. Who were women who'd been in our union for a very long time.

                                 Fighting the struggle within the Union to try and one, open up membership to women and make the CFMEU, [BWRU] BWIU, all of these other unions that we came from more relevant to women in the workplace. But also, to open up opportunities for women inside the Union. So, in some ways I was a beneficiary of their, you know, many decades of struggle in terms of their own experience and then sort of helped continue that on. But I've got to say it was a lot, probably a lot easier for me ultimately, than it was for the two of them originally.

                                 Lorraine Usher at her retirement was the vice president of the mining and energy division, she'd been the secretary of the mining and energy division. Came out of the old Federated Engine Drivers' and Fireman's Association. And Jane, you know, was the national president of the forest and forest products division. So, but they, you know, they're two women that come to mind that really fought the fight for opening up opportunities for women in the Union in terms of leadership and moving - with the preponderance being…of women in our union being the very important admin people… but, you know, we sort of, you know, tried to develop that, you know, a little bit further.

                                 Which is, I'm very proud that the CFMEU has done that. And, you know, I was mentored by lots of really amazing men [full-time leaders, delegates and members]. A whole bunch of people who, I don't know, obviously saw something in me which then supported, you know, my efforts as I make my way through this union. I never really planned to be the president, I don't think you can really plan to have these leadership roles. They've got to be done with the support of your membership. But it's such a great privilege to represent members.

                                 The funny thing about our members are, and which are still mainly men and I suppose because I got to meet a lot of them at the worst times when they're injured. I remember when I first started at the branch and workers' comp is pretty awful now, but the system was really terrible back then. The benefits actually were better back then in some ways, but the system was woeful.

Facilitator:                Right.

Interviewee:             And I used to have basically like a medical waiting room where we would just have, there would be 10 or 15 people, a dozen people I'd see every day with problems with their compo issues.

Facilitator:                Wow.

Interviewee:             Because in those days people got paid by cheque, cheques went missing, bosses stopped [paying]. Bosses would say oh no, the insurance company's paying and the employer would say, and the insurance company would say no, no the employer's pay and the poor worker would be stuck in the middle. They'd be, they’d be in pain, their wives would be leaving them, all sorts of things going on. They'd be terminated after six months. So, it was a really busy kind of little practice that I had. And It gets improved, it's actually improved a lot with technology because now things are EFT’d, et cetera.

Facilitator:                Yeah, that's right.

Interviewee:             But it really gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of workers, and some of whom I still see today. So, even though I didn't have an organiser's role, you know, in terms of, you know, being out on the job in that sense I got to meet a lot of the members at their worst. And one of the things I'd say about our members, for all of their conservatism about women, et cetera, is that when it came to having someone represent their interests they don't really care what gender you are, or what, you know, colour skin you've got or what colour hair you've got or whatever. They just are so happy to have someone who's there fighting in their corner in a system particularly like workers' comp where they feel completely alone, marginalised and voiceless.

                                 So, interesting, as I've gone through the Union, I've never felt that I've been treated differently by the membership. You know, and I go on site, you know, still very relatively frequently, talk to members about their enterprise agreements, take up their issues, help them negotiate their agreements, et cetera.

                                 And I don't think anyone's ever really - I've never felt it, anyway - that I've been treated differently because I happen to be a woman in this job. So, you know, I think our membership's very mature and, you know, with the program. Like I say, they just want people to represent them and take up their fight and do the best they possibly can and get, you know, the best results. So, I've sort of had the benefit of a whole bunch of really good stuff coming together at the right time, both at the branch and nationally.

Facilitator:                It's absolutely fascinating. There's a couple of things I want to follow up on. So, going, stuff that I want to take up from now, but going back to the beginning of your story. So, one of the questions that we're asking people is about family kind of, and you said your dad was…

Interviewee:             Yeah, so my mum and dad are immigrants to this country. So, they both migrated differently but got married in Australia in about 1963, they were married in 1965 from Malta. My mum worked in factories and other things up until the time she had me, I'm the second of four children. So, after I was born she worked at home basically babysitting and had a sixth-grade education, you know, very southern European sort of immigrant profile.

                                 My father I think had the equivalent of a Year 12 education, I think. Came to Australia, worked in all various jobs, ended up working in a Woollies-type sausage manufacturing section where he was, I know he was making small goods at the time. And he did tell me that he'd been a union delegate and he educated himself, took himself off to TAFE. He got a job as a cleaner in the public hospital system and then did TAFE at night to better himself.

                                 And ended up having a sort of middle management kind of role where he looked after wards people and the kitchen facilities and those kinds of things at various hospitals. Both at Nepean, I think it was Concord and Western Sydney. So, but my mum and dad are, you know, they’re kind of…they're sort of typical immigrants to Australia, they worked really hard. My dad worked two jobs to buy the family car, a piano for me which I still have and I would never, even if I never played ever again I would still keep because he worked so hard for me to have that.

                                 And I suppose we were typical, you know, sort of working class, middle class family, had a good upbringing. We went to the local public school, you know. I grew up in a place called Cambridge Park near Penrith, walked to the primary school…

Facilitator:                I was born in Nepean Hospital.

Interviewee:             There you go - walked to the high school. So, we were quite a close family [with three brothers]. So, I suppose from my parents I've taken a, you know, a work ethic, they obviously made a bunch of sacrifices both in leaving their country of origin and coming here and starting a new life, with – you know, and they knew what they were doing was setting up a new life for their future family. So, I was very lucky that my parents always encouraged us to study and take up the opportunity of a good education and, you know, to work hard and back yourself, I suppose.

                                 And, you know, they were very supportive. I got to live at home throughout the time I was at university, I did have a part time job most of the time, but, you know, I had a very supportive family environment within which to study and study hard and work hard. And, but I think, you know, I did get from them a very strong work ethic and…

Facilitator:                But not an overtly political.

Interviewee:             No, we never really. We, my dad and I used to chat about all sorts of things, but - and I, he voted Labor - but we never really talked about politics in those terms. It was more about, you know, we'd talk about Aboriginal rights or we'd talk about whatever political issue of the day was happening. But no, not a politically sort of connected background in that sense. But they certainly, I think in, you know, discussions about whatever the issues of the day might be clearly it must've, it must have embedded something in me. Because I've then taken that and used it in the course of my working life.

                                 But yeah, they're just really solid working-class immigrant family who wanted their kids to do well and luckily all four of us have got good jobs and have been the beneficiary of our parents' hard work in setting that foundation.

Facilitator:                Yeah, okay. So, I’ll get to the Union specific things as well.

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                But in terms of you said that your, your kind of formal involvement with politics and the Movement kind of started with the work with the Union.

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                Has that expanded sort of your political involvement or your activism into other networks or other issues?

Interviewee:             I probably really focus at the end of the day on my union work, and obviously the Union's affiliated to the Labor Party and I get the privilege of representing the Union on a number of forums in respect of that. I've done a, I did a little bit around the Council for Civil Liberties at one point, you know, sort of tied in with our struggles around human rights and workplace rights. But my main focus is, really has been, the work of the Union and how I can, wherever I am, talk about the Union and workers generally.

                                 But also, the other part that I've had a little bit to do with, and it is through work, is internationally. So, I got to, a few years back, go to Colombia as part of a union delegation, made some contacts there that I still have today of one of the unions there that covers the Coca-Cola workers. So, I've done a little bit of, you know, union solidarity work with them, you know organised the odd fundraiser, because at the end of the day there are people in countries like Colombia and South America and other parts of the world that don't have, even with our bad laws, the kind of rights that we have. And we should be supporting those unions in their struggles against, a lot of the time it's multinational corporations that we're struggling with here. So that's probably - my interest has always been around the issue of workers, trade union rights. But I have, you know, participated in rallies, you know, around the issue of the recent changes to the citizenship laws.

                                 That sort of came obviously because I believe in peoples' human rights and the right to be citizens of a country, especially if they're going to be paying tax they've got a right to vote. But that also came from my personal background, because I think you know, my parents - well, my parents were lucky in a sense that they came from Malta, it was part of the British Empire. So, they got the right to vote irrespective of not being citizens, although they're citizens now.

                                 But it just seemed to me an abominable situation where you've got people living in Australia permanently who are disenfranchised, and yet they are paying taxes, they should be the beneficiaries of all the services and why shouldn't they participate in the democracy as an equal person? So that's something that I, you know, feel quite passionate about. And I suppose more recently the Union's been developing its more, I guess, organised response to the rights of Indigenous people and off the, you know, off the back of some really powerful representations by our comrades in the MUA particularly, we've supported now the campaign for the Uluru Statement of the Heart and I've just been trying to help, I guess, develop the Union's response in respect of that with our rank and file. Helping to coordinate our first inaugural Indigenous conference.

Facilitator:                Wow.

Interviewee:             So that's, so that's I mean still union-related work but it is about our

                                 responsibility to social justice issues more broadly…

Facilitator:                A broader kind…

Interviewee:             …and particularly I guess the responsibility we have to, you know, our first nation's comrades. Who, you know, we've had pockets of activity in the CFMEU, but we've never really, in construction anyway, tried to tackle the issue in a way that supports our ever-growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in the industry. So, it's going to be really interesting, to kind, of bring together our industrial capacity with hopefully helping support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with what they need to have, which is proper recognition, proper compensation and a proper way forward that means something than just the sort of symbolism we've seen so far. So that's probably another more recent area of interest.

Facilitator:                Okay. Going back now to just picking up on some of the other things that you mentioned in your kind of brief tour of your involvement.

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                Your position, can you explain to me where that…

Interviewee:             Construction?

Facilitator:                Yeah.

Interviewee:             Yeah, so the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union now is obviously divisionally, has these divisions and…

Facilitator:                And the Maritime will be one division.

Interviewee:             It's going to be one division and then you know that, you probably know that, the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union people have also merged, but they're going into our forestry section which will become a manufacturing division largely. So, basically, we have a construction division, it has a national body and then underneath that are the different branches. So, there's a New South Wales branch, a Western Australian branch, a Queensland branch, a Victorian/Tasmanian branch, South Australian branch, Queensland, Northern Territory.

                                 So, I am the president of the construction division in New South Wales. So, that's, kind of, my role. Not all the branches have full-time presidents, but ours is big enough…

Facilitator:                Big enough.

Interviewee:             …that in our rules we have a fulltime secretary, president and two assistant secretaries. That's kind of where I sit.

                                 I'm also on our national executive, though. We have some rules nationally across the CFMMEU, which say that if there isn't a female representative on the national executive in her own right because of the elected position that she holds, then we've got an affirmative action position. So, I, I sit on the national executive holding an affirmative action position because we don't have in construction a female person who is elected in a position that would get them there as a right. So, I'm also our national executive.

                                 So, I, you know, I get to play a little role in terms of some of the stuff happening nationally, but my principal role is being part of the executive which oversees the governance and operations and any industrial activity of the branch.

Facilitator:                Mm hmm. So, you gave me, as I said, the timeline of your involvement.

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                But what I'm interested also in getting in a bit more detail of is what, thinking back now on the 22 years, was it?

Interviewee:             Yep.

Facilitator:                What are the sort of pivotal moments for you do you think of those 22 years? What are the things that stick in your mind, good, bad and, you know?

Interviewee:             I'd have to say bad would be the two royal commissions, but one, you know, as a lawyer and then the second royal commission being the Trade Union Royal Commission I gave evidence in three times over different issues. So, they would be, ah, they're really extraordinary destructive things that occur in unions. And then obviously the CFMEU or building and construction seems to be the target for conservatives when they come into power and the first thing they do is, you know, set up a royal commission.

                                 You can, you know, spend a lot of time just being sucked into those processes. It's not a legal process, it's very much a political process, and you don't get an opportunity, really, to say all you want to say in defence of the branch or the Union when you're involved in those processes. So, they become a really grinding, grinding sort of process to be involved in which, you know, they're designed to distract you from your day to day work.

                                 I didn't quite appreciate that so much in the Cole Royal Commission because I was there doing my lawyering job so I was taking statements and responding to subpoenas. And, you know, I wasn't in the leadership role. I mean obviously advice was being sought about how to deal with things, but I wasn't in a position where I had to make decisions strategically about this stuff.

                                 By the time I got to deal with a TURC where I was in the leadership role and where I was having to give evidence and to defend our position on issues it really was - and then that one was a particularly toxic royal commission. It was very personal; all sorts of people came out of the woodwork to say all sorts of things and some very hurtful things. It involved damaging, trying to damage our admin staff as much as the leadership. So, you know, really was, that was a really difficult two years, we saw it through.

                                 But it did have an impact on our capacity just to focus on other things, which was let's increase the membership, let's be doing whatever we have to do to increase the power of our members in the workplace. So, they're the two kinds of bad things.

                                 Some of the key highlights: the dispute against James Hardie and that was a big part of the Movement's fight to make sure that the victims of asbestos and mesothelioma, et cetera, got the money they deserved. So, you had a situation where James Hardie were going to go, you know, offshore, they were going to leave these people largely uncompensated. And it really took the Union Movement, and the Union Movement should be very proud of its achievement, then along with the New South Wales Government, to basically drag James Hardie kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. And I was part of that CFMEU here, and, you know, I got to go to some of those key meetings and be involved in, you know, going along to AGMs of James Hardie and raising those issues on behalf of victims. It really just showed when, it doesn't matter who it is on the opposite side and how big and how, you know, deep their pockets are, if we come together and have a real focus we can really move mountains.

                                 And I think for me that was an extraordinary achievement. One to be part of in the branch but also to be part of that movement in terms of all the other unions that came together. And then the New South Wales Labor Government at the time that helped achieve a result that continues on to this day. So, James Hardie isn't an Australian based company, that agreement is still in place, they're still legally obliged to make sure there's sufficient funds to compensate people who were exposed to asbestos and end up with asbestos-related diseases.

                                 So that to me was an extraordinary campaign.

Interviewee:             So then of course now there's obviously the being involved in your rights at work which, you know, - I came into the Union in '96 in October, John Howard had already been elected in March '96. So, from '96 to 2007 my whole experience was like young people mostly under a conservative government, you know, really determined to undo the Trade Union Movement at every turn. So, to be part of being involved in your rights at work and engaging with members about how we need, really need to change government was obviously another highlight.

                                 Then more recently I think being in the leadership role. So, I've been the president since 2011 and was part of a couple of big industrial campaigns around our enterprise bargaining agreements. The first probably would have been our big dispute with Lendlease where we were trying to bring back these things called site allowances. Which had been largely eradicated under the Howard years where people, you know, who worked in particular sites got extra money. And they were sort of wiped out and we wanted to bring them back in New South Wales. So, we ended up having a rather large dispute in 2012 with Lendlease which saw their workers go out and take protected action. Then off the back of that was another big dispute involving De Martin & Gasparini, which again was about improving their enterprise agreement in the sort of next phase, that sort of subcontractor phase. Bringing in these things like site allowances and a few other bits and pieces where we had to lead 110 concreters to take protected action.

                                 What was interesting about that dispute was you had these workers who were all very long-term employees of a particular company. They'd never really had to take protected industrial action to not to roll over their enterprise agreements and improve, them and up until the very last minute when we all got on the bus to, to set up our action we didn't know if they were going to take action. So, it was, it was an interesting experience of trying to convince people that we really need, we're close, we really needed to take this action to seal the deal. Which, you know, luckily, we did and we got a good result.

                                 So, there have been a few of those examples, but there have just been so many. I mean obviously I still have a hand in workers' comp and I have, it's a sad part of the role but I've had to help many families who've lost loved ones. Probably lost count of how many families I've had to, over the last 22 years, just help them ensure they get proper legal representation, that their, all of their insurances, and all those bits and pieces that are in place when someone dies at work or even outside of work, but really when they died at work.

                                 That's probably the toughest part of the job because you do have to sit down with the wives or the parents of generally men lost at work. And, you know, they're already in this very fragile state dealing with the loss of a loved one and then, you know, you're talking to them about, you know, making sure that their insurances are in place and what forms need to be filled out. And it's a really tough part of the gig but, you know, it is something that you just have to do.

                                 And unfortunately, we are still seeing an incredible number of workers killed on construction sites and that seems to have almost gone unabated. I think it's still around, in terms of accidents, you know one a week across the country. And that hasn't seemed to change, if anything we're worse than we were before. It's really special to have that relationship with people but it's, you know, really difficult as well. And whatever we can do to assist families who find themselves, even for workers who are not members, quite frankly, we will do, because there's nothing worse than a family losing a breadwinner or their father or their son or their daughter to an industrial - I don't call them accidents because none of these deaths are accidents. They're - I don't think I've ever come across one that's not preventable.

Facilitator:                Yeah, right.

Interviewee:             And it's just extraordinary that you've got the situation where you've got the conservative government coming after unions and union officials and want to put everybody in gaol who actually has the temerity to stand up for their rights. And yet companies get away with killing workers every week, and you never see anybody get gaoled and you don't see very many big fines. So, whilst there's multimillion dollar fines available in the Work Health and Safety Act, no one gets fined anything close to $1 million for causing the death of a worker at the workplace. So that, that stuff's tough but it's really bread and butter for us as well.

Facilitator:                That last bit in particular about your having to deal with people when they're sort of at their most vulnerable, and that must be quite a difficult thing. And another sort of related question, I guess, is asking about the impact of your vocation on your life, in a number of ways. First is that sort of, it's in some ways different to a normal job…

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                …because it is all encompassing. So how do you deal with that? How have you, what has been your way of dealing with that? I guess the other is working in a union job I would imagine that raising that at barbecues or…

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                …and then on top of that saying which union you work for. I just wondered what's your experience…

Interviewee:             Oh, it's pretty, yeah, it's pretty, it's a bit mixed. In fact, I was at dinner the other day and I was talking to a guy who works in the mining sector as an engineer. He sort of, he said - we had this conversation about who I work for and he goes oh yeah, I've heard of you. And he sort of said mm, you've got an interesting reputation [laughs]. You get those sorts of reactions.

                                 You do find yourself just, we're all pretty political, I suppose, in the Union so you do find yourself, like I say, at barbecues and things talking about the issues of the day. And so much of it at the moment is IR related, I mean and it's quite, it's not an unknown. Like, you know, it's very much on the front page of any newspaper. So, I suppose you always end up trying to, I don't know, I always do my best to defend the Union, try and dispel the myths around what we do and how we do it. You convince some people, other people you don't.

                                 I try not, I also try not to get obsessed by it though because it is nice to switch off and…

Facilitator:                I was just about to ask you, do you ever…

Interviewee:             …enjoy your free time and…

Facilitator:                I said do you ever…

Interviewee:             …talk about something else.

Facilitator:                Do you ever strategically think I'm just not mentioning that today?

Interviewee:             Oh look, oh look I have done. Or the other, it's like being a lawyer, you know, when you go to a family function and everybody wants to ask you legal advice - I'm sure doctors are exactly the same. It's like I'm not at work right now, I'm off the clock. Let's just talk about the most recent movie and book we've read.

Facilitator:                Yeah.

Interviewee:             So yeah, you do find it's a bit of a, it's a bit of a balance. But I do try not to take [it home], I'd much rather stay at work and get my work done than take it home. In the last few years I've taken to go to the gym so I'm fairly, I don't do sport and stuff, I was never really a sporty person, but I try and do lots of exercise and I also try and do other things like read a book that's got nothing to do with work, or, you know, go to the movies. Or do all the sorts of things that people normally do.

Facilitator:                Normal people.

Interviewee:             I've got, you know, a big group of friends, I've got many friends who don't come from the Trade Union Movement so that's good because you get sort of a different perspective. Because I think it's a really, I think it's really easy when you're involved in the Union Movement just to end up being that's your life. Because that's, you know, where your colleagues are, that's where a lot of your lifelong friends are. Like me, I've been around forever in this union so I kind of know everybody.

                                 But I have sort of always kept, you know, friends and colleagues and people that I know from other areas. Because you just need that balance and you need to know what other people are thinking and the way they perceive the issues that are important to us. So, it's important then to be able to think about how we respond to those beyond our own membership. Very close to my family and, you know, I've got nieces and nephews that - I don't have kids myself but I've still got nieces and nephews that are growing up and spend a lot of time with them.

                                 So, you know, I just try and not take it home. You know, everyone gets stressed out but I'm not someone who doesn't sleep at night mostly, unless there's something really big on like a dispute, or - we recently had a dispute with a company where - and it's the same concreting company as 2015 - where the company threatened to sack everybody if we didn't sign up to their deal. That was a pretty stressful time, because you're trying to work out how you get through the dispute which we did, and we did successfully. But you're also conscious there's 110 families that are going to be impacted if you get this wrong.

                                 So, there are those stresses. But luckily, I'm the kind of person who can sort of switch off and do other things and not necessarily take it all home with me. I think that's really important, especially when I've still got - it is a very stressful environment, it's a very - it's one where you're, it's about, it's adversarial. I mean we have an adversarial system and you're not, it’s not as if you're fighting with everybody, we do have good relationships with people on the other side of the fence.

                                 But there is that element, especially at the moment, of it just being, you know, we're on the defensive and it's about maintaining your position let alone trying to improve your position. That can wear you down, and I've seen it wear down people and trying to stay healthy and fit and have other hobbies and things is really, really important. But I do love my job, so that helps.

Facilitator:                Yeah, right.

Interviewee:             Like I've never, I don't really, I mean I very rarely take a sick day and I never get up in the morning and think oh, my God, I wish I wasn't going in today. You know, that's never really been my thought in my head and the day that that happens will be the day that this will not be the job for me. But yeah, it's really fantastic just to do what I do.

Facilitator:                Mm, so I'm really interested in your experience internally and, obviously we edit out, we don't…

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                You're still, it's a bit different talking to people who've retired, or - but I'm imagining that there would still be challenges just because - I mean, you had Lorraine and Jane before you in kind of other divisions. But just being the first…

Interviewee:             Yeah, it's interesting. I know when I first, when the position became available it was really funny, I had to go and tell my story to the committee of management, many of whom I'd known forever. Because our committee of management's made up of 26 rank and file workers, and I had dealt with all of them at some point in time. The beauty about the workers' comp job is there's always someone who gets injured, unfortunately. So, you get to talk to delegates all the time because the delegates help you sort out the problems on behalf of the members.

                                 So, in some ways I was really lucky that even though I wasn't an on the ground organiser as such I got to meet a lot of our delegates by virtue of the fact that when someone got injured they rang me. So, a lot of these people I've known for a very long time and, you know, I've sort of grown up in the place. So, but it was interesting when I went and spoke to the committee of management as a group they weren't really that concerned I was female, that wasn't an issue.

                                 And the thing that I thought was going to concern them was the fact that I wasn't a building worker. So, I didn't come off the tools, and that's a massive tradition for this union, right.

Facilitator:                It is, yes.

Interviewee:             I was, that was probably the thing…

Facilitator:                [Not] just this union.

Interviewee:             …that - and we still do focus on making sure that predominantly our people who are going to take up leadership roles or are organisers come from the, come from the industry. Because that's where we see our strength because, it's building workers talking to building workers.

                                 But the Union over the years has also cottoned to the fact that you need a whole bunch of other skills to win. You do need people who are legally trained, you do need people who can do communications and PR, you do need people who know how to do the figures and the finances and make sure that we don't, you know, screw up our obligations in terms of governance.

                                 So, so whilst it's really important that people come up through the, through the ranks from the shop floor, so to speak, we've got such a complicated environment in which we operate it's impossible really for this job, for this union, to function without having a whole bunch of other people. So, I was actually thinking that that would be where I would have the most resistance, but funnily enough the most resistance was that I was a lawyer and they…

Facilitator:                [Laughs] That's fantastic.

Interviewee:             …thought that I would somehow, in my leadership - because I don't act as the lawyer now as the president, like yeah, we've got lawyers.

                                 I've kept my…

Facilitator:                Currency.

Interviewee:             …qualifications relevant, because you never know when that may or may not become relevant again. But, you know, they thought that I would just be bringing my legal hat on and I would not necessarily get on board some of the policy decisions or whatever because of what they thought was a more conservative background.

                                 Funnily enough I was able to say well, just name me one time ever that I've ever stopped this union from doing anything. I might have said to you these are the consequences of doing such and such and such and such, but, you know, I don't see our role as lawyers in the Union as stopping you from doing anything if that's what you decide to do in terms of strategy. And also, so I've always tried to use my, you know, legal capacity to solve problems and find ways through issues that otherwise, you know, might be barriers to whatever it is we're trying to do.

                                 So, that was the interesting experience. So, it wasn't female, it wasn't that I wasn't a building worker, it was the fact that I was a lawyer that seemed to be the most concerning. But…

Facilitator:                I think that's fantastic.

Interviewee:             Yeah, and that just shows really kind of what our members are like, really. I can't really think of an example where I think my gender has prevented me from, you know, doing whatever it is I've wanted to do, so I've been lucky in that way.

                                 It is a male dominated leadership we have, it would be nice to push through that more at a national level. But I'm sure it will come and if it won't come with me it'll come with somebody else.

                                 But I have been, I have been fortunate to be able to kind of do a whole bunch of things in this, in this job that I don't think would have otherwise had the opportunity to do elsewhere.

Facilitator:                Mm. Do you have, given just that your membership and, consequently, that your leadership still tends to be male dominated, which seems logical, do you have a network of women in other unions that you deal with?

Interviewee:             Yeah, I sure do, so especially in the left, we've seen a lot of great women come through the left unions now, so from the ASU, the FSU, United Voice and, you know, people like Mary Yaager at Unions NSW. I'm the vice president, I'm one of the vice presidents of Unions NSW. But I've always been involved in Unions NSW either through my work as a workers' comp officer, industrial officer, or later on as an elected official. And, you know, here have been some really amazing women, you know, Lynne Polson from the FSU springs to mind.

                                 There's a whole, a whole, lot of women that I've met from other unions both in the private sector and public sector unions that I've been able to look up to or learn from or have as friends as well as colleagues. Which is fantastic, it really just shows the depth and diversity of the, of the Trade Union Movement. Luckily for me the CFMEU, particularly in construction, we've always sought to work collectively with other unions. So, that opens up, you know, your capacity to meet people from other organisations and, you know, just learn from what other people are doing. People like Michelle O'Neil who's the national secretary of the TCFUA is a very impressive union leader, has great political skills. So, you know, I've been lucky, so I've obviously worked with a lot of really great men. I mean many people like Joe McDonald our former national president who's been one of, you know, in more recent times for the last six or seven years, you know, a very good mentor of mine. And then people going back from when I started.

                                 So, you do, you sort of pull inspiration from a whole bunch of people in this movement, and we're lucky because we are surrounded by, you know, just lots and lots of really interesting, talented, diverse people from which to draw ideas or support or just every now and again have a whinge to, because you have to, you do have to sometimes offload and get things off your chest, if only to just deal with the stresses and then, you know, move forward on whatever it is that the issue is. So, and I've got some really lovely close friends as a result, but, women friends, from the Movement as well, which is great.

Facilitator:                If you had to characterise your leadership style?

Interviewee:             I'd like to think it's collegiate and collaborative. I don't, no one can do this job by themselves, it doesn't matter if you're the secretary or an individual admin person. Like you do, it needs to be a team effort, and in fact the times when we haven't been united, either in the CFMEU or the branch, are the times when we haven't don’t so well. So, I would hope that I, I think I'm good and working with people. Sometimes I don’t know, you get to the point where you just want to get a decision done. But I would say overall collaborative, respectful. You know, try and take the angst out of it for other people. So, you know, you've got to support, you know, your secretary and make sure that they're, you know, freed up, you know, to do some of that strategic work and take up some of the issues that the secretary has to take up. And I'm pretty lucky, the way this role has developed in the president's role, I mean I do do a lot of industrial work, but I also work with our internal people to make sure that - and this is where, you know, the lawyering stuff helps - that we're meeting our obligations in terms of our governance.

                                 I'm lucky enough to sit on our superannuation board as a trustee director, and I'm chair of one of our subcommittees. So, I've developed skills, again, that I don't know if I would have developed if I'd just ended up working in a law firm as a lawyer, for example. But a lot of that training comes back, and I can use some of the learnings I've learned around governance and other things at the superannuation end in terms of the systems and the things that we need to be mindful of at the Union.

                                 I have also had to do some of the internal HR stuff, so you have to have a capacity to listen to people and understand what's going on in their home lives and other things which are impacting on, you know maybe impacting on what's happening at the workplace level. So, it's a really varied role that I've had and I've, and I’ve been able to utilise all those skills. So, hopefully I think overall I think I, I would say that I try and work with people to get the best possible result that we can.

                                 And that goes to our, you know, having a great relationship with our delegates and listening to what they're saying is the feedback from workers on the job. So, I think that's the, that’s the key.

Facilitator:                If you were to think about yourself when you started and think about sort of the equivalent now, sort of a young woman starting, what, what advice, what would you tell her? What would you…

Interviewee:             I think, looking back now, one you've got to back yourself. So, if you think you can do the job make the case for yes, you can do the job. I think sometimes as young people, but as young women particularly, we don't always raise issues when they occur. We sort of, we just, you know, push through things and hope things will improve.

                                 Like I know one time I can think of is very early on in the piece we didn't have enough people to do the industrial role and it did become very stressful having picked up both the workers' comp and the industrial to get it all done. And, you know, you put up with that stuff, and I think women tend to put up with that stuff more than the blokes do. So, I think, you know, raising issues, but I think also learning from everybody around you and listening to the members, especially those that have been around for a very long time.

                                 I mean I learned, I learned a lot from, so, in my workers' comp role obviously we had external lawyers do the actual workers' comp claims, the lump sums, the common law, but I got to work with a lot of those lawyers and they were amazing. And, you know, I learned a lot from them about how the system worked which then I was able to use in my role as a trade union official when we’re advocating about why we should oppose various cuts in workers' comp is a perennial dispute in unions.

                                 And so, I was lucky to just be around people and learn from the people who just do the job day to day to understand then how we had to advocate for something better or prevent something worse happening on behalf of our members. So, I think listening is a big part of it and just, you know, just being open to experiences. So, if someone told me I have to be on a building site at – as I was the other day, I had to go to a meeting at four o'clock in the morning – you get up out of bed at three o'clock and you find yourself at a workplace at four o'clock in the morning and you do what you've got to do to service the membership.

                                 So, I think that they're the sort of things that I think. But I think, you know, listening to people around you but also being confident in your own skills and your ability. And I think also just being true to your principles and true to yourself. I've never been someone that pretends to be other than me, so you sort of, you take me or you leave me as you find me kind of thing. Whereas I think sometimes people sometimes feel they need to be a different person to get ahead or do things that maybe are inconsistent with the beliefs that they hold. And I've never done that. Like if I don't agree with something I'll say it.

                                 Having said that I also respect the collective, and once a collective decision's been made in a union then I'm going to go and advocate for it just as much as everybody else. Even if it might not have been the way that I would have done that, solved that particular problem or done that particular thing. So that sort of sense of the collective is really important as well, especially in a union.

Facilitator:                Okay, that's really interesting. So, your union has been, is in a particular situation of being a particular beneficiary of attention from Federal Government over the course of the years, and I guess that provides a bit of a challenge. But I guess if you were to think broadly, what would you see as the biggest challenges facing unions and unionists today?

Interviewee:             I think overall unions do really good work on behalf of their members, but we've actually not been very good at telling our own story. So, when you get the onslaught that we've now seen, you know, by the conservative and the conservative press, they want to paint, well, they want to paint the CFMEU really as a collective of - well, there's two things they do. One, they try and distinguish the workforce from the union. So basically, the conservatives have successfully tried to convince people that the CFMEU is something different than its membership.

                                 So, they feel very comfortable then maligning us and painting us as corrupt or as thugs or whatever. And but they don't, they seem to have no compunction doing that, even though what they're doing is actually insulting the thousands and thousands and thousands of building workers who actually form, from my perspective, the Union.

                                 So, we, I think, need to be better in articulating that the Union is actually the membership, it's not full-time officials like me. Yes, we're the mouthpiece for those members, but really the Union is the groups of workers coming together and using their power collectively to better their position in whatever area. And I don't think we've told that story well to our own people, let alone to the broader public, and I think that's left us exposed to this narrative that we're all just bad, we're dinosaurs. Or, you know, the recent narrative around the merger of the CFMEU and the MUA as if the world's going to fall, you know, come to an end. I mean, what happened here is you've got groups of workers democratically deciding, like companies do when they merge, that they wanted to build their power and be more effective by coming together. Instead of recognising that democratic right, you've got the conservative press falling behind the employing class saying well, you know, we can't possibly let this happen, this is somehow contrary to the public interest.

                                 None of them actually ever articulated what the public interest is that we're going to disadvantage, apart from the fact that they're really worried about workers coming together to use their power to push against, you know, their capitalist success. So, it's been really interesting seeing that develop.

                                 But I think I would like that we become better at telling the Union's story, engaging better with the next generation of workers. So, luckily in construction we still do have a story telling type approach, so, you know, young people talk to the older people on the job and that's how they learn about the Union. But that's not how people communicate with each other now with, you know, devices and all sorts of things.

                                 So, we've got to find other ways to tell that story. And, you know, engage with people to say there is actually power in the collective and it doesn't matter what job you're doing, you're always going to be better off coming together as a group than, you know, allowing yourself to be picked off singly.

                                 But for us, you know, we do have, we are portrayed in a certain way. At the moment, you've got this whole thing about the CFMEU being lawless because there's 135 prosecutions against us, or whatever it is. I myself have been prosecuted personally for supporting our members in getting a better collective bargaining agreement.

                                 And, it just seems to me, and Sally McManus has started doing this, where we haven't been saying yeah, the laws that we are found to have breached are basically laws that prevent people coming together and collectively standing up for a safer workplace or better wages and conditions.

                                 And, you know, the laws are written by the conservatives in such a way as to mean that even if you are a union that at the workplace wants to take action to ensure that people are safe and ensure that people are getting paid correctly and ensure that their superannuation and other things are coming. As soon as you take that action you're probably going to go on the wrong side of the law. So, we haven't killed anybody here, we haven't run away with anybody's money, the TURC couldn't even touch us on governance as a union.

                                 But, when you've got laws that mean every time you pop your head up and say we actually want more you get prosecuted because they've set up a special body to prosecute you. Then of course we're going to be in breach of the laws, right, and so there's going to be a whole bunch of these cases. So, it's sort of like a cycle that we're stuck in, and sometimes I think we don't tell that story well, or we just can't cut through because, you know, the front pages of the papers have a different story to tell.

                                 But my branch is growing in membership, you know, people want a union that stands up for their rights and they don't want a union that doesn't, you know, have a go, at the end of the day. So, but of course we don't want to bankrupt ourselves in the process…

Facilitator:                Sure.

Interviewee:             …so we have to use our, make our decisions judiciously. But, I think that's the challenge for us, just telling that alternative story. Not just to our own members but more broadly, and it's a challenge for the Movement, I think.

                                 Because I don't think people don't want to be members of unions, I just think - well, there was all that research recently about people haven't been asked so therefore they don't join. But also, you know, the conservatives have, to some extent, won the PR war against us which we're now, you know, trying to respond to. So, I'm hoping that as part of the Change The Rules campaign, we can incorporate into that, you know, the benefit of being a member of the Union and, you know, that, you know, the rules are there and they're important.

                                 Off the back of that is you need advocates, you need unions, to, you know, to make sure that we don't go backwards in terms of those rules, but also that we move forward and people will all get the benefits of the, you know, whatever economic prosperity that's happening. Or, you know, where we might be able to more broadly on social justice issues, you know, use our collective capacity. But yeah, it's a funny kind of place we find ourselves in.

                                 But we are at a crossroads and it’s a challenge because you can't have membership decline and union density declining and then expect to have a voice anywhere. So, we need to do whatever we can to not just to retain where we are but to move forward.

Facilitator:                Can I ask, because I have a particular interest in sort of supply chain issues and labour standards, does your branch have a particular approach to, or strategy around, non, sort of, direct employ CBD…

Interviewee:             So, what where we've sort of, we've tried - and it's a bit like I guess in some ways what some of the other unions have done - we've always tried to put the responsibility back up at the top of the chain. So, it's impossible trying to organise, you know, even in, even in organised jobs like these ones out here, but the time you get out to the fitout stage, you know, cleaners, painters, you know, people at the end of the contract, they've got no power.

                                 They're largely, that's where you find a lot of the new immigrant workers into the industry. So, not only do they not know their rights, you know, you really can't even organise them in a way that you can organise the structure trades, for example. But also, we've tried through our enterprise agreements to put provisions in to try and kind of can’t prevent it entirely, but to sort of stem the tide towards outsourcing and using labour hire and other sort of arrangements unfettered.

                                 You see out there in the non-organised sector a lot of use of the Australian Business Number, the ABN system, where people are paid all their rates of pay who are employees. And, so, we've tried to one, if we've got the capacity through our enterprise agreement, put in provisions that try and put the responsibility back up onto those at the top of the tree. And put barriers to the subletting and subletting contracts plus the outsourcing of work to labour hire in the non-union sector.

                                 But then, you know, that doesn't solve the non-union part of it, so we've also tried to, you know, get the political fix and try and get the laws properly enforced. I mean our view is if you enforce properly the tax laws and the current superannuation laws, you would actually recover a whole bunch of money that already is missing in the system, let alone actually changing the laws. So, it's a bit of a combination of the two, but wherever we can actually kind of capture it through our enterprise agreements. That's probably how we have, as a branch, tried to stem the tide of abuse of ABN or, you know, really just sort of, the sort of absolute proliferation of labour hire. We try and not have an agreement with everybody, you know, we try and do agreements with companies we know who follow the rules and provide the benefits to their employees that they actually sign up to. Because there's a whole bunch of people in the industry that will sign up to all sorts of things but they won't comply with them. So, it’s a bit of a multifaceted approach.

                                 I suppose unlike other parts of our union like mining, or even to some extent our manufacturing division where things, you know, have been affected by what's happening overseas, we don't - whilst we have had to deal with multinational companies, so we have engagement with international unions in construction because, you know, we've seen Spanish, French, German, whatever companies, Chinese companies, come to Australia. So, we try and have those ties with people internationally, but it's always really been more of a local fix when it comes to the industrial sort of situation we find ourselves in.

                                 But issues of labour hire, increased casualisation of employees, to some extent the misuse of the ABN and the tax system, are massive problems still even though there's a lot of work on at the moment and there's a shortage of labour. So, some of that isn't happening because, you know, people are getting good conditions because there's a lot of work on. The other thing is just the amount of superannuation that's lost, that should be paid for by employers on behalf of construction workers – that just doesn't happen.

                                 You still see, and it's driven again by the developers and the builders from my perspective, where, you know, the builders are pushing everything onto the subbies and the subbies then push everything onto the employees. And they're using cutting the corners on things like paying for the super and redundancy, et cetera, workers' comp, as a way in which to win work. Because it's a really cut-throat industry and that's really hard, that's, that’s the culture change that needs to happen in the industry.

                                 And we try and engage with some of the bigger players and say you could have all this and have this race to the bottom or, you know, you could compete on other ways than just the cost of labour or, or the cheating employer. So, it's, it’s just going to take, but there's no one quick fix to all this, it's just taking an approach depending on how the issue manifests itself when we're dealing with it at any point in time.

Facilitator:                Can I ask you, you've spoken about there in answers to the last two questions about what you see as a general challenge for the Union Movement, telling its story, and then issues for the industry. Could you contrast those current issues for both unions and then your industry in particular with what you saw 22 years ago when you came in?

Interviewee:             I think on many fronts not much has changed, and other fronts it has changed. So, obviously wages and conditions, particularly in the organised sector, have improved. Like we've won back site allowances in our last round. You've got, you know, you’ve got industries that are losing their penalty rates, we've just got all overtime and double time, we don't even have time and half anymore in our organised sector across all of the divisions, across the construction sectors.

                                 So, there's been a lot of improvement in conditions and that's off the back of a pretty healthy economic climate particularly in New South Wales around construction. If there's a lot of work on, you've got a lot of bargaining power. I think safety, I think, is still a really massive issue for us. I think that conditions are broadly better than they were day to day, but yet you're still seeing people being maimed and killed. And the pressure for people to cut corners to meet deadlines I think is worse now than in the past.

                                 Jobs lasted longer in the past, some of it's because, you know, technology’s changed and things can be built more quickly. But I think some of it's also you've got this real push to work 24/7 if they can. You know, we've had to do a combination of fixed rostered days off and flexible rostered days off, for example. And there are, there was a lot of pressure on workers just to keep working come what may. I don't think that's any better now than it was back then, if anything in some ways it's worse. So yeah, there's a whole bunch of things that I think are better and then a whole lot of things that I think we've shifted back from.

                                 We would say, for example, the safety regulator is not as strong as it used to be when I first started. In those days WorkCover had a very clear objective to use the law and compliance and prosecutions to try and get better behaviour from companies. And I think they did do that: I think they got better outcomes by making sure that people were prosecuted and fined where they had to be. The shift to self-regulation and this idea that people can, you know, risk assess and, you know, come up with their own solutions to problems I think has caused more problems.

                                 And, you know, we're pretty disappointed currently with the way which the regulator approaches safety on projects in New South Wales at the moment. There needs to be a culture shift there. So, there's some things that have improved, worker's comp’s appalling. I mean as bad as workers' comp was rights were pretty good back in 1996. So, as long as people were members of unions, it didn't help people who weren't members, but if you had a strong union like ours that had the capacity to represent workers, you had good common law outcomes, lump sums, people got compensated.

                                 Even though administratively the system was a challenge. Now the system's administratively a challenge plus the benefits are not so great. So, you know, that's, I think, safety and workers' comp are probably the two areas where we've made some progress in some parts, but gone backwards in others.

Facilitator:                Mm, and with regards to the Union Movement more generally? So that's your industry…

Interviewee:             It's interesting, I suppose when I first started I really didn't know lots of people about in all the different unions. I think what we've done really well in New South Wales is I think the unions have come together much better as a collective. So, when I first started you'd go to Unions NSW meetings or Labour Council meetings as they were, the left unions would sit on the left and the right unions would sit on the right and it would all be this chaos. And I don't think there was necessarily unity amongst the unions, and I think there were, people took factional positions on all sorts of things.

                                 In the time that I've been involved in the CFMEU and in my time involved in Labor Council and Unions NSW, I think, I think that, you know, a whole lot of the leaders, both from the unions' perspective and also the peak bodies perspective, have worked really hard to build unity amongst the unions.

                                 So, we can go to things like, you know, the State ALP conference and you're not going to get division about industrial employment issues based on union lines. Like unions right or left are going to take positions common, whether it's about subcontracting, the gig economy, safety, getting a better pay deal for child educators, whatever it might be.

                                 So, I think one of the really good things that's occurred over the last 22 years, led by the people who've been in the movement, is bringing us together; being able to come together and work on those issues and progress those issues. Whereas probably when I first started there were a whole bunch of demark fights and, you know, people doing their own thing and, you know, all sorts of things going on that I probably couldn't even understand. So, I think that's probably the key thing. And I just think that's helped, when you see the sorts of campaigns that Unions NSW then have been able to roll out to prevent, you know, the privatisation of various hospitals, ensuring that, you know, people in Western Sydney get their voice heard, or now they're taking up this issue around the gig economy and what's happening with the exploitation of people who are delivering food or whatever. Like, they're all issues that in one way or another affect all of us, and having a peak body that kind of brings us all together and work on those campaigns together I think is really powerful.

Facilitator:                Mm, okay. Well, thank you, I think I've covered pretty much everything that I wanted to. It's fascinating to listen to you. It really is really very interesting. Is there anything else that you think you'd cover about your time?

Interviewee:             I suppose the one other thing that I've more recently been involved without with the Union is more, is actually in a more, in a more - ah, what's the word? In a sort of a stronger ways around the issue of women and women in the industry, but also in our union. We know we've got a growing number of female members now, particularly in traffic control and other things.

Facilitator:                I've actually noticed that.

Interviewee:             Okay, yeah. So, it's been a bit of a funny, it's a funny, there's two things about it. So, there's a lot of them that it's basically backpackers, right, they're really hard to organise, you can't really organise backpackers. But there are a growing number of women in the industry who are not backpackers, they are actually, you know, people who live here and are working in the industry. There's a lot of them in traffic control, there's a few jobs around here now where I've gotten to know some of the women. I think one of our traffic control companies, which is about 300 employees, I think 50 percent of them are women.

                                 So, there's a growing number of women in the industry. I also know crane drivers that are women, hoist drivers that are women, painters that are women. And so, we've not always known how to kind of make ourselves relevant to them as a pretty male-dominated union, but we've all done - so we're doing rolling out training with our officials and our delegates. We're doing training around domestic violence issues in our delegates' course.

                                 And, you know, just making, you know, because all of our organisers at the moment are male, having them, giving them the confidence that they can represent, you know, women who have issues in the workplace as successfully as they do the blokes. And that's worked, so we've got women who have raised issues which we've, we just deal with them as we normally would with members, but also trying to learn, you know, from that. That, you know, we want our female members in the industry to have a, you know, that the Union is theirs as much as it is the blokes'.

                                 You think about them the way you communicate, the language that we use, how we portray things in our journals and other things to make, to make it a place that's welcoming for our female members. But also working with the Union across the divisions to ensure that, you know, women get access to leadership roles. We have a women's committee now, we have a women's conference, which we usually have once a year although last year we delayed it because of the merger.

                                 So, we'll have a women's conference this year which brings together, it brings together about 80 rank and file women from across the divisions. It will be a bit more this year because we've got our [maritime] mining and TCFUA comrades with us. So, so I think that's probably the other, you know, the other thing I'd like to continue to work with in the Union to develop further.

                                 Just make it a little bit more formal and make, you know, there has been a tendency in the past, I think, because of the male dominated leadership [nature of the union], many of the issues that affect women specifically are kind of dealt with as a side issue. And what we've tried to do, and I think successfully now, is just, you know, these are employment issues. So, if there is a female member who's got a DV problem, you know, or a harassment problem or anything that's happening on the job, these are just as important as anything that affects the male members.

                                 So, just making it a normal part of our work to represent their interests as well. So, and I think we're better at it. Not perfect, but we're definitely better at it.

Facilitator:                Mm, no and it's been, it's funny, it's a really noticeable change.

Interviewee:             Yeah, and the industry's changing. And there are a lot more women in other roles, contract administrations and safety and other things on site. And I remember when I first used to go on site and you'd have to sort of close your eyes and not be embarrassed by all the crap on the walls, et cetera. That just doesn't, that doesn't even appear, I mean there might be the odd poster every now and then but that's really the exception.

                                 The rule is that, that respect for gender as well as for ethnicity and other things is what we try and get to on the job. And I think the changes in the law have made that a necessity from a risk perspective in terms of the employers anyway, but that's not a bad thing.

Facilitator:                Mm. Yeah, that's really fascinating. Thank you for adding that, that's really, that really is quite a significant part of what we're looking at.

Interviewee:             Yeah.

Facilitator:                That's brilliant, thank you.



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