Standing up for the south coast

IEU Organiser Tina Smith

Since 2019, the IEU has also been represented at the South Coast Labour Council by its President, IEU Organiser Tina Smith, journalist Sue Osborne writes.

Smith has been an IEU Organiser on the south coast for 13 years. Before joining the IEU she worked in several early childhood centres in the Illawarra region.

Smith supports Secretary Arthur Rorris’s efforts to amalgamate the region’s unions in the fight for better wages and conditions for all workers. The council also supports the community through activities to help south coast towns devasted during the bushfires of 2019-2020 and COVID.

Under her auspices, the council has reinstated its women’s committee, which is planning activities in support of the We Won’t Wait campaign for paid domestic violence leave. The constitution of the council demands a 50 percent representation of women on its executive.

The council often collaborates with the University of Wollongong in research projects. Its work on wage theft affecting young people working in hospitality and retail garnered significant media coverage.

The council is currently involved in a research project looking at how wage increases, particularly in the public sector, would impact on the communities of the south coast. “Everything Arthur does has to be fact based, all our statements are strong and meaningful,” Smith said.

Like Hunter Workers, the Wollongong area has a strong industrial heritage, with mining and steel works dominating for many years. The council is now a broad church, with teachers’ unions playing an important role. Smith is not shy about flying the IEU flag at council events.

The council evolved from Illawarra District Trades & Labour Council, formed in 1943, which itself evolved from miners’ lodges of the 1870s.

The council issued the following statement in response to the public disorder on the streets of Melbourne at the end of September:

The right to a safe workplace: Free from infection

The South Coast Labour Council notes its extreme concern and disgust at the events in Victoria and elsewhere that represent a crude and deplorable attempt by extreme right-wing elements to hijack and derail the efforts of the union movement including nurses, doctors and all frontline workers putting in endless hours and risking their own lives to keep union members, their families, communities and their workplaces safe.

The South Coast Labour Council notes that there can be no greater right or freedom for any worker than the right to return home from work to their families alive and free from injury, serious disease and illness. Our region has learnt this the hard way in our mines and heavy industry, with some of the worst ever industrial disasters this country has seen. No one has the right or freedom to increase the risk of infecting their workmates and their families with the coronavirus or otherwise putting them in harm’s way. Workplace safety is not a choice.

The Labour Council further notes:

Our voice and strength as a movement comes from our unity, our common purpose and our collective action not from the liberal principles that opportunistic politicians rely on for their own power.

The crude and ugly attempts by extreme right-wing forces to destabilise our communities at a time of crisis reflects a critical failure in the discharge of primary responsibilities by the Federal Government. The failure extends beyond the utter bungling of the vaccine rollout and can now be clearly seen as “leadership hesitancy”.

Accordingly, the South Coast Labour Council calls on the Federal Government to do its job and clean up the mess it has created through its neglect, incompetence and political opportunism.

Adopted unanimously