Wednesday, March 2, 2011

02/03/11 – Solidarity is King

Towards the end of last year I was approached by a friend at work who was leaving the company, he was also a Union Delegate in our area. He asked me if I would be interested in replacing him. At that stage I wasn't even a member of the union. In the past I have been a Union Health & Safety Rep in another job so have experience in this area. You could in fact say my Political Ideology is in the left wing category, perhaps even bordering on Socialism. But my mate seemed to think I would make a great Delegate. So he arranged for me to have coffee with the Union organiser who gave me a rundown on where they were at, what they were trying to achieve, and what sort of stuff I'd be doing. So I agreed to become the new delegate. It was with some embarrassment I told the organiser that at that stage I wasn't even a member. "No worries" he said and handed me an application form to fill out. So it was official. I was now a 'Union Thug'.

So I had 3 days worth of training at the Union office. It was a fantastic experience as I got to meet delegates from other organisations from all over Victoria. All politically likeminded people in the one space is something special. It’s like having a room full of supporters of the same football team or a group of classic car enthusiasts together. You feel like you belong. After my Christmas break I returned to work to find that management had arranged a series of meetings to discuss unplanned absences with some employees. Some of these included the union members I was representing. As a result these members asked me to be their representative in these meetings. As a representative I'm there mainly as a witness to ensure the process is fair and that the Union member isn't bullied or intimidated. I can also call a break if I feel the employee needs some time to restore composure.

Before each meeting I get 10 mins or so with the Employee to "prepare". So one of the girls who I was representing, in our prep meeting explained to me the reasons she had so many days off last year. She was carrying triplets, who were premature, and they died at birth. I was shocked. Not just by what had happened to this poor girl but by the fact she was being asked by management to explain why she had so many days off. I asked her if they knew about what had happened. Yes she said. I was dumbfounded. I was also angry at the total insensitivity to the situation. I couldn't even begin to imagine the kinds of hell this poor girl had gone through and would continue to through her entire life. But I was smart enough to realize she would probably require some time off here and there to cope with the magnitude of that tragedy.

So we had the meeting and I was appalled at the patronising attitude of the manager involved. If this was what I was going to be up against as a delegate I knew I had a massive job coming up. Next week we have meeting with my Centre Manager, the Company HR manager, the senior delegate, the union organiser and myself. I'm a little nervous as some of the things we are raising are sure to put a target on my back. I can forget any promotions anytime soon. At the same time I'm a little excited about being in a position to help make the lives of the average employees a little less unpleasant. And I guess that's why I'm doing it.