Our new national secretary
Erin Polaczuk is the new national secretary who joins Richard Wagstaff in the senior leadership team. Erin comes to us from the Post-Primary Teachers Association where she was the deputy general secretary. We asked her to tell us a bit about herself.
You have an unusual surname.
Polaczuk is a Polish surname. The Polish side off my family came to New Zealand with refugees during the Second World War – 700 children and their caregivers – and were taken to the Pahīatua refugee camp. Everybody in New Zealand with that surname is related to me.
Tell me a bit about your family and where you grew up
I grew up in Naenae, the fifth of 10 children. My mum and dad both trained as teachers but my dad went on to work in engineering jobs and my mum was very well occupied with all us children. After school, I studied at the University of Auckland. I have a daughter, Summer, who is 6 years old and has been going to union meetings since she was about a year old.
You sound confident speaking te reo. Is Māori part of your background?
My grandparents were lifelong learners and tried to learn and use some Māori. And I learned te reo at my high school in Naenae and continued with it in my first year at university. I am not as good at the language as I’d like to be but I think it’s about walking the talk when it comes to our Treaty obligations. Understanding a language gives you a bit of insight into how people see the world.
Why are unions important to you?
At university, I got involved in the campaign against youth rates. I’d worked in hospitality where they often paid youth rates and I saw this in-your-face discrimination all the time as a young person.
I wanted to put my energy into something that fitted with my ethical framework and saw unions as a force for good and a place where I’d love to work so I did the Council of Trade Unions’ traineeship straight after university. After that I worked for the Engineering Union and then the Post Primary Teachers Association. I’ve never stopped believing that unions are the most effective vehicle for change and for social justice.
What attracted you to the PSA?
I thought it was time to step up and I’d come to admire the PSA and the stands it takes. The Worth 100% campaign to close the gender pay gap, for example, is something that’s going to affect all workers. The PSA has a broad membership so takes a broad view of the world and takes a brave stand in commenting on issues that are controversial. Instead of ducking for cover on the Nicky Hager book, for example, the PSA pointed to the way public servants are being treated and why it’s an issue for democracy.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the PSA?
The continuation of the austerity philosophy with government departments trying to do more with less is going to be a challenge for members. The other big challenge is the new Employment Relations Act. We are going to have to be really aware of how these changes will affect us and the risks around collective bargaining. We will have to be ready with both an organising response and a legal response.
Another challenge will be in maintaining our engagement with MPs. This is something the PSA has done really well. We don’t set ourselves up in opposition but we seek to have engagement with all parties and I think that’s the right strategy.
What do you most hope to achieve as part of the leadership team?
I am really impressed with the work around pay and employment equity. If we could get the gender pay gap to disappear by the time my daughter is working, I would feel very proud of this organisation, because it’s this organisation that would do it. I want to see us increasing our membership. I want to see us fighting off the contracting out of core public services and I want to see us talking about public services as public good. I think we have a generation who might not understand this – until the services are no longer there. We have to fight off the perception that state ownership means you are being controlled.
What do you do in your spare time?
I do like to garden though my garden’s a mess at the moment. I hang out with my 6 year old and we skateboard and ride our bikes. I like to surf. My ideal holiday is with my daughter, by the beach with some good waves.