It was our biggest Congress ever, with more than 200 delegates gathering in Wellington to debate, network and make plans that will guide the future of our union.
Working people from across the country, and across the public and community sectors came together for the PSA’s biennial National Congress between November 16-18.
The theme for Congress 2020 was ‘Public and Community Services – Building Our Future’.
In her opening address, outgoing President Janet Quigley remarked on how public servants had demonstrated their true worth by stepping up during the Covid Crisis.
She also noted the tremendous growth of the PSA over the past four years both in numbers and influence, and urged delegates to take seriously their responsibility as worker leaders.
Democracy then swung into action with delegates debating notices of motion - proposals sent in by members like you.
The motions resulted in Congress delegates endorsing Pasefika representation throughout our delegate and governance structures, recognising the Eco Reps Network as a formal PSA network, and endorsing a new fee structure.
Delegates also rejected a proposal for the PSA President to be elected by One Member One Vote in the future, rather than by the delegates who represent them at Congress.
An address from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was a highlight of this year’s Congress. Her speech was very warmly received, but she also faced tough questions.
Ministry of Justice court reporter Jennifer Laulala grabbed nationwide media attention with her passionate call for action around equal pay for Pasefika women, asking a simple but hard question of the Prime Minister: “Why have we been forgotten?”
The PM promised more would be done and asked the assembled unionists to help by identifying and confronting employers who don’t give workers the pay or respect we deserve.
The Prime Minister first joined a union herself as a teen working in a supermarket, and she told Congress attendees the experience was “an awakening” for her.
"It only further entrenched my view around the incredible work that our union movement does in the good times and in the hard times, supporting our most vulnerable workers,” she said.
“So, thank you for reminding me of why I do what I do."
Public Services Minister Chris Hipkins also spoke at Congress, thanking public servants for the many sacrifices made during and since lockdown, as part of our world-leading response to Covid-19.
Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood, a former union organiser, reasserted the Labour-led government’s commitment to Fair Pay Agreements, which will set consistent standards for pay and conditions across entire industries that go above and beyond legal minimums.
Contributors to our latest Progressive Thinking series took part in a lively panel discussion on topics related to the conference theme, including the need to invest in public and community services to rebuild better after Covid.
Sophie Handford, Jonathan Boston, Max Rashbrooke, Deb Te Kawa and PSA policy advisor Andrea Fromm left delegates with much to consider.
Congress workshops provided further opportunities for discussion and learning.
Congress also heard a powerful address from keynote speaker Armine Yalnizyan, who spoke to us via Zoom due to Covid restrictions.
Armine spoke about the need to transform our economic system away from an obsession with ‘growing the pie’ to increase profits for those at the top.
Instead she called for a system more like a layer cake; with a healthy environment forming the base, and caring for each other forming the next layer.
On these two layers a solid infrastructure and a functioning economy can then be built.
IR MADISON WORKERS
Workers employed by Inland Revenue via the Madison labour hire agency made a rousing appearance at Congress.
These brave young workers have signed on to the PSA’s legal case asserting their right to secure employment and equal conditions to their colleagues. They received a standing ovation from delegates.
Congress was also an opportunity to acknowledge some stellar contributions to the PSA and the union movement.
Former PSA President Paula Scholes and former PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff were presented with honorary Life Memberships for their service to the labour movement over many years.
Also recognised later in the evening - though not warned in advance he would be - was retiring PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay.
Glenn was left visibly moved by tributes from outgoing President Janet Quigley and current National Secretaries Erin Polaczuk and Kerry Davies, thanking him for his hard work and dedication.
Janet was also farewelled and thanked for her four years of leadership.
Congress concluded with the election of our new union President Benedict Ferguson. A longstanding member of the Executive Board, and walking delegate in local government, he brings experience, determination and passion to the role.
In the wake of Covid-19, it has perhaps never been more clear that effective public and community services are critically important to all New Zealanders.
Congress attendees have dispersed to the far reaches of our country, and the plans and decisions they made will now be implemented. Watch this space, or even better - get involved.
Photo Credit: Congress group photo by Stephen A'Court
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