Janet Quigley: Meet our new president

Janet Quigley was elected PSA president at this year’s Congress, and her election quickly became front-page news in her home town of Timaru.

After a couple of months settling in to the job, how’s she finding it – and what’s she identified as the big issues the union will grapple with in 2017 and beyond?

Janet Quigley, moments after her election as PSA president was announced

Janet Quigley, moments after her election as PSA president was announced.

How’s the job? Is it what you expected?

I think it’s what you decide to make it. That’s the beauty of the role – I get to put my own stamp on it. I’m a grassroots workplace delegate and member and that’s where I see myself.

Does being outside Wellington make a difference?

It has made it a little bit more difficult. I wanted to get to Rotorua
to talk to some delegates at their Christmas function and I realised it would take 3 days to fly there, attend the function and get back home to Timaru. It’s going to be a little bit different for the organisation, letting me know well ahead of time so I can make the most of any travel and fit more than one or two events in.

But there’s an upside. I’m not focused just on Wellington, I’ve got a focus on really getting into the workplaces because that’s where I’ve always been.

I enjoy meeting our members and talking to them about what their issues are. We’ve got awesome delegates out there doing awesome work, and our staff are too.

I was at a PSA delegates’ Christmas party last night and I found out that groups of them are fundraising in their offices and buying food packages for Kaikoura. These are things our members and delegates are doing that we don’t get to hear about, and it’s awesome being part of the big union family.

What’s your take on the overall health of the PSA right now?

I take my hat off to the people who’ve got us to the position we’re in. We’re a union that’s growing even though we’re up against a government that’s not union-friendly and workplaces that are making it difficult for us. But we’re in a good state.

We’re a very proactive union, we’re out there and we’re telling people our stories. For years nobody knew who public servants were. Now we’re talking about what these people do.

They’re people at our borders checking that things don’t come into our country that shouldn’t. We’re the people that are checking to see our water supply is drinkable. We’re people that pick up rubbish, we’re everywhere and everybody – and I think people are really starting to relate to that.

By telling our stories, we’re getting the public to come with us and I think that’s really important.

New president Janet Quigley with PSA Executive Board member Gail Arthur

New president Janet Quigley with PSA Executive Board member Gail Arthur

What are the biggest challenges ahead for the PSA – and the union movement?

It’d have to be the impact of privatisation, trade agreements and governments that don’t see the benefits of having workplaces unionised. I think we’ve got to get better at telling these stories.
It’s about workers’ rights and making sure we don’t take any backward steps. Our forebears fought so hard for what we’ve got today. Also I think we must embrace our youth and take them with us. The way they work and think about work is totally different, they no longer have a job for life.

So we need to think about how we change the face of unionism so we keep what’s important but figure out how to move ahead.

What role should the PSA play in the 2017 election?

Personally? I want us to stand up for workers’ rights and say we have very clear expectations from all parties. Pussyfooting round is just not my style. I don’t believe we should be affiliated because we have people with broad views – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stick up for what’s going to be best for our members.

We’ve got to go to the Labour Party, the Māori Party and the Greens and say – if we get in behind you and start talking to you, what are you going to do for us? All things come at a cost and we won’t talk to you unless there’s something in it for our members.

Where to from here? What would you like to see the PSA doing?

The Stand Together campaign shouldn’t just be about the election. It’s a really good campaign.

Bargaining’s going to be tough in the next few years and we need some real pay increases. We want our people to feel they can afford to live in this wonderful place and they’re valued for what they do.

We’ve got to get equal pay sorted. Yesterday’s announcement [the Government’s adoption of equal pay principles] was great but that’s only step one.

I also want to see proper delegate recognition. I want delegates recognised for the value and the worth that they’ve got, and actually get allocated work time to fulfil their role.

As I go round the country, I see people having to take personal leave from their work because they can’t get released to attend a meeting. Or they don’t put their hand up to become a delegate because they’ve already got an excessive workload.

How do we get that message to employers that delegates are worth recognising?

And of course I’m very excited about Ngā Kaupapa. The PSA has got to be a role model on these issues so we can’t be challenged on the way we work.

We can never lose sight of the true face of unionism – because at the end of the day we are part of the trade union movement. 

By Jessica Williams