Taking the leap – becoming a delegate


“I’m not a crusader,” Karin Henshaw explains. “I tend to be a low-key person who works in the background.”

Karin Henshaw

Karin Henshaw

When Karin’s national delegate, Virginia Wilton, gently suggested she should think about becoming a delegate in her workplace at the Ministry of Social Development, Karin’s first response was, “I don’t
think I can do that.

“My greatest fear was that I would let someone down. Delegates sometimes have big responsibilities and I just wasn’t sure I had the skills or the temperament to be a good delegate.

“At the same time, I found myself getting more and more involved as a member, and found that I wanted to contribute more. When I talked to Virginia and other MSD delegates I realised that delegates have quite a bit of choice in what they choose to take on. As Virginia explained to me at one point, ‘no one is going to ask you to suddenly start negotiating a collective agreement – unless that’s what you want to do’.”

The more Karin thought about it, the more she felt being a delegate was her opportunity to give back to the union.

“The PSA has been there for me on a couple of issues and I believe in the power of collective bargaining, so after talking with Virginia I decided I needed to put my apprehension aside and put my name forward.”

That was about two years ago and Karin says she hasn’t looked back.

“We are very fortunate at MSD that we have some incredibly strong delegates. That’s made my introduction smooth, because I know I have some really experienced delegates across the organisation. Our national delegates Virginia [Wilton] and Christine Pattison, in particular, have supported and mentored me and other delegates. They are always available, helpful and encouraging.”

Karin says the PSA also provides good support – from training to regular contact with organisers.

“Even for people working within small organisations, where there might not be the depth of delegates we have in an agency like MSD, there are numerous opportunities for new delegates to learn and build their skills.”

And, every delegate brings their own strengths and interests to the role.

“Someday I may want to be more involved in the strategic part of the role and collective bargaining, but right now my interest is in making sure we communicate information to members – I try to be a conduit between the PSA, our members and MSD.

“I also work with individual members who are having issues in the workplace. It’s a really satisfying part of the role.”

What Karin didn’t expect in the beginning was how much she would gain through being a delegate.

“Problem-solving skills, learning to work across the organisation on complex and sometimes contentious issues, building networks, so many of the ‘soft’ skills that you can only get through experience. The great thing about doing it as a delegate is that there’s a good support system around you at all times.”

Karin says she also feels invested in by the PSA. “I need to carry out my delegate work in my ‘free’ time so it has been really affirming to me to see that the PSA put in the resources to help me carry out my role as effectively as possible.”

What Karin is clear about is that she doesn’t have all the answers. “But no one expects me to. I’m part of a team. When I have a question or concern I have resources through our members, other delegates and the PSA. It’s been a really positive experience and has made me feel more connected both at work and within the union.

“I’m not a crusader, but I do believe in the union and felt like it was my turn to give something back.”