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  Issue No 78 Official Organ of LaborNet 17 November 2000  




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.  Ask Neale

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Doubly Blessed

With that unforgettable name, Grace Grace is making her mark as the first female secretary of the Queensland trade union movement.


You're the first female on the Australian Mainland to lead a State Union Peak Council, What has Queensland got going for it?

Well I guess Queensland has defiantly matured over recent years and I think that we are certainty pursuing some very important issues. Together with the Labor Government, we have introduced some quite significant changes for workers in Queensland. For example we were the first state in Australia to legislate for maternity leave for casual workers. That's fairly ground breaking, together with the government was able to push the issue and get it legislated for all workers.

So is the redneck stereotype of Queensland a thing of the past, are things changing up there?

I think as far as unionism goes, I never think we ever had that red neck mentality. I mean, I know Queensland is a diverse state and there are areas of course were unionisation isn't quite as high as we'd like to see it, but I think with unions adopting and moving more towards workplace activism and looking at getting the issues up and running and pushing those issues and recruiting along the way, I think that there is a feeling of optimism across the state.

What's your personal story? How have you got to be where you are as Secretary of the Queensland Council of trade unions?

I guess the stepping block for me to become Secretary was the fact that I was elected assistant secretary just over five years ago. That was a first in 110 years of the QCTU history so having been elected as the first women five plus years ago, when the position became available for secretary it was a natural progression. Nominations were opened and it clearly became evident that I was to be elected unopposed.

I've worked in the movement now for about 20 years now. I started full time for the Finance Sector Union - the then Bank Employee's Union. I worked there for 10 years. Then I did a stint as industrial officer at the Labor Council, I then worked as an advisor for the assistant Industrial Relations minister at the time, Garry Johns and then came back as Assistant Secretary. So I guess 20 years experience coupled with being an assistant for as long as I was assistaded me in becoming the first General Secretary female in Queensland.

If you had to choose a time to take over the reins now would be it - you have a friendly state government and new industrial laws. How are you making the most of this climate?

Well, I guess what are trying to do is ensure that the avenues that we have to improve wages and conditions are pursued to their fullest so that the elements of the act which enable us to, for example, roll over agreements until awards, review awards to make them more up to date, enter the workplace without the need for notice, give workers entitlement which they never had before and advising workers that if it wasn't for the union movement those kind of things wouldn't happen.

The current Labor Government has introduced some of the most progressive laws we have in this country and what we need to do is ensure that we use them to the fullest. We are having an organising conference on the 24th of November to explore which way we can use this.

What's the single biggest issue confronting workers in Queensland at the moment?

Casualisation and job insecurity. In Queensland, we are slightly higher than the national average . We have one in three workers in Queensland working casual There is an explosion at the moment in the number of new businesses and the government is doing a lot to secure new businesses. Unfortunately some of those are in the areas of call centres where there is a high casual portion of workers.

One of the ways we looked at addressing them were running a case to increase the casual loading from the current 19 percent norm. to 28.5 % and we are awaiting a decision any day now. We've asked for a general ruling. The loading of 19 % was set some 25 years ago, believe it or not

What's the Beattie Government's position on that claim?

Well they were supportive of an increase but it certainly wasn't to the level we put in. It's submission is for a 1% increase in the loading. That's disappointing but at the same time I think our case was very strong and hopefully we will be able to get more than that.

On a more positive note government has also announced a sic month pay equity inquiry to have a look at pay in equity in Queensland. They will take on the findings of the NSW Inquiry and see whether or not those findings are relevant to Queensland. A discussion paper has also been released and we are also looking at other occupations such as in the area of tourism and hospitality, nursing, food processing and call centres and looking at developing a principal for Queensland along the lines of equal remuneration for work of equal value.

What about the general relations with the Beattie Government? Often Labor governments don't give unions everything they want. Are there areas you are having problems at the moment?

Well obviously we didn't get everything we want and we went through a bit of a rough patch there with enterprise bargaining. The government quickly locked themselves into a certain figure and, obviously, unions wanted to push that as far as they could. But what I like about the relationship is it is one of respect and understanding: you understand that they have a position they understand you have a position, hence respect. And once its over and finalised hopefully we can get on with business which is the good thing about a Labour government.

Is it an optimistic time to be involved in the Union movement in Queensland?

Well I think it is The Union movement at the moment is at the crossroads. Either we stabilize our membership across Australia or start to increase it or in five years time we might be heading labor councils with very small percentage of density. I don't think anyone either at the Labor Council at NSW or the ACTU or the Queensland Council of Unions wants to be in a position where were representing a very low percentage of union density. So our job is to turn it around and if we can do that, it will be exciting.

Finally I've got to ask what's it like going around having a name like yours?

Well I decided to do it to myself, when I married my husband Michael Grace and I decided to take his surname. Sometimes its very good because they don't forget it but often its not as good because they always remember for the name. Recently in an article they said having had the opportunity to be double blessed I couldn't pass it over.


*   Vist the Queensland Council of Unions

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 78 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Doubly Blessed
With that unforgettable name, Grace Grace is making her mark as the first female secretary of the Queensland trade union movement.
*  Unions: On The Line
Trade unions this week entered a landmark partnership with the call centre industry to improve the quality jobs in this growing sector.
*  History: Conspiracy or Class? The Whitlam Sacking
Never trust a man who wears a top hat and tails in Australia, in Summer. Neale Towart considers this and other evidence of conspiracy in the great shonky dismissal.
*  Legal: Return Of The Lock-out
Marian Baird reports on the increasing tendency of aggressive employers to use lock-outs to reduce wages and conditions and promote individual agreements.
*  Activists: Waterfront Hero Bows Out
John Coombs, the man the government compared to Ned Kelly - villain to the bosses, the big land owners and conservatives, folk hero to working Australians - bows out of the union movement next month.
*  International: Morocco Stonewalls In Western Sahara
Morocco has new king but its old game plan of defying world opinion over its occupation of the Western Sahara continues.
*  Review: The Identity-Shifting Pragmatist
If New Zealand should have an Australian as its first Labour Prime Minister, then it is only fitting that Australia should have as its first a man who spent much of his formative years across the ditch.
*  Satire: Hackers Infect Microsoft Computers With Mysterious Windows Virus
SEATTLE, Thursday: Shame-faced workers at Microsoft admitted today that hackers had succeeded in penetrating their network's defences and had installed a sophisticated virus on the Apple Macintosh machines used across the software giant's operations.

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