If a meat inspector from Invercargill can become a PSA President then anybody can.
So says AssureQuality meat inspector Keith Gutsell who achieved just that through a lot of hard work and dedication to the cause.
Keith got involved in the union more than four decades ago after seeing inequality in the workplace.
“I was not afraid to step up and speak to the bosses, so I dipped my toe in the waters.”
Since then he has served as a delegate, national delegate, sector committee rep, vice president, and President from 2004 to 2008.
One of Keith’s biggest campaigns as a delegate was to fight off attempts by successive National governments to privatise meat inspection.
In the 1990s he organised a collection that saw meat inspectors donate $30,000 to send PSA representatives to Europe and Washington to lobby politicians and officials to oppose the move.
The union argued it would lead to lower inspection standards for meat exports.
“Holding a collection was unheard of, but we stopped wholesale privatisation,” Keith recalls.
Keith says it was an honour to be PSA President during the era of Helen Clark’s Government.
He remembers taking a tag team approach to discussions in tripartite forum with Government and employers.
“I could say things that the national secretaries couldn’t, things like ifwe don’t get decent pay increases and conditions, don’t be surprised to see people marching in the streets.”
He says you have to tailor negotiating tactics to match employers. “Sometimes you have to be in their face, but other times a softly softly approach is better. Not all employers are mongrels.”
Keith is also proud of the Partnership for Quality agreement, which established a co-operative way of working between employers, employees and Government. The agreement remains in the AssureQuality Collective to this day.
As Keith retires from life as a meat inspector and PSA delegate, he can reflect on the role he has played in preserving terms and conditions for his workmates despite privatisation pressures.
When he was made a life member of the union in 2014, the PSA Journal noted he had been a ‘campaigner for workers’ rights all his working life’.
But Keith believes he has gained more than he has given during his life in the union movement.
“It’s given me the opportunity to meet Prime Ministers and other unionists around the world... I’d be meeting cabinet ministers one day and back on the chain the next – a great equaliser.”