On the job: Kevin Bryson, Dunedin City Council

There are arguably three necessities in life: beer, bread and water. Kevin Bryson – golf player, Lions member and Pink Floyd fanatic – has worked with all of them.

Kevin BrysonThe water quality technician (dubbed the “gatekeeper”) for Dunedin City Council has been in the business of keeping the city’s water levels at Grade A status for 15 years.

“It was an eye-opener to see just how much work goes into treating the water,” he says.

“Like everyone else, I just took it for granted that water arrived at my house via the tap and never thought about what is required to get it there safe for me to drink.”

15 years ago, when Bryson was 47, he was made redundant from a job filling beer tankers that he’d held since the age of 25.

After a short stint delivering bread in the middle of the night, he found a job at Dunedin Council: cleaning the water plants (mopping, buffing, dusting, toilet cleaning), driving the forklift and general handiwork.

When he was given the chance to train in drinking water treatment he was able to gain the qualifications that helped him get promoted into his current role, which involves updating audits, manuals and liaising with management.

Working in such a supportive environment and with co-workers who encouraged him to get higher education is one of the things Bryson loves about his job, but he says the many management restructures have taken their toll on some workers.

“Management numbers seem to increase while the workers at the coalface decrease but the workload is the same. It’s hard to take as we seem powerless but they don’t want to listen to the ones who have to do all the work. I know change is inevitable, but some of the decisions that are being made, I shake my head and wonder ‘who are these people’?”

When Bryson first started work in 1969 as an apprentice plumber he knew nothing about unions, apart from his father saying it was best to be in one.

“I remember my first contact with a union organiser: he was a man who seemed to be very underwhelming. All I know is they took money out of my pay, gave it to his organisation and I had no idea what the hell I got back for it.”

He changed his tune when he was truck driving, getting involved with unions and continuing to be a delegate since then.

“I am a delegate for the PSA because I have not lost any of the principles I had in my younger days but today the workers’ rights are being legislated out of existence.

“Jobs have disappeared by either technology or creative downsizing – redundancy – by industries. The manager has changed from working in the industry first so they have an understanding, to one who is an academic but no help to the worker.”

A year ago the PSA merged with the Southern Local Government Officers Union, who represented local government workers in Canterbury and Otago, and Bryson says combining the forces of the two unions has been for the best.

“We have better representation at all levels now than ever before, more resources at our disposal and we are kept more informed. As delegates we have more training opportunities.

“We still have the same problems with management but I feel more confident now in having to deal with them with the support of the organisation behind us.”

By Jess McAllen