Unions around the country are reeling from today’s news that Helen Kelly has died, aged 52 years old.
Kelly was president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions from 2007, stepping down in October 2015 due to her ongoing struggle with cancer.
She led some memorable campaigns on behalf of working people - standing up for film makers who had laws passed to strip them of their employment rights, for farmhands who were being made to work 60 hours a week for minimum wage, for forestry workers being killed in horrific health and safety abuses, and for the families of the Pike River miners.
Her earlier involvement with unions began with primary teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa, where she played an instrumental role in the nationwide campaign to win primary teachers the same rate of pay as their secondary teaching colleagues.
She also served as the general secretary of the Association of University Staff (AUS), during which time she pushed for the AUS to amalgamate with the polytechnic union ASTE to increase the power of both.
Angela Roberts, president of the secondary teachers’ union PPTA, says she can’t imagine the union movement without her.
“Helen never gave up fighting for working people from every sector – whether they be education staff battling for better working conditions, or saving the lives of forestry workers by advocating for improved health and safety protections. Helen dedicated her entire career to improving the working lives of others.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse, who described Kelly as “a passionate advocate for the rights of New Zealand workers”.