It was Neville Donaldson who took on aged care worker Rasela (Sela) Mulitalo’s case, when she first ran into trouble for challenging management at work.
The E tū Activist of the Year, who was awarded the Neville Donaldson cup at this year’s Biennial Conference, has been a union member ever since she started working at 18, but it wasn’t until her mid-20s that she really became an activist.
Sela says it was the support she received from the Service and Food Workers Union when she was just a newbie in aged care that made her understand the importance of unions.
“We were always short staffed and I used to voice that a lot, so I got hauled into the office and they were set to get rid of me.
“I went straight to John [Ryall], who was the National Secretary at the time, and then he arranged a meeting with Neville.”
Thanks to John and Neville’s mentorship and encouragement, Sela says the experience changed her: “From there, I was like, I’ve seen the power of the union and that moved me to give back.
Around the same time, Sela’s first taste of union organising came when she attended a meeting for the Central Region Komiti Pasefika. The session was an eye-opener, she says.
“As people were speaking about their issues, I was gobsmacked. It doesn’t matter what kind of job or role you’re in, the issues you face are the same.”
Sela was soon invited to join the group, where she was made one of the first youth members of their caucus.
She also began campaigning around the Living Wage, becoming a voluntary organiser in the early days of E tū for the cleaners at the Hutt City Council.
In the aged care sector, she joined the fight for the Equal Pay Settlement, helping to run ratification meetings and supporting members with their concerns.
Even before the case was settled, Sela saw a chance to make sure her members were on the right pay scale.
“I think it’s for a lot of us, [the settlement] the chance that we needed in our sector to be actually recognised for what we do – it’s been undervalued for so long.”
Last year, she also joined the E tū Youth Network.
Sela says one of the parts of her union work she’s most passionate about is her involvement with Komiti Pasefika.
“Our Pasefika people tend to shy away speaking up and are silenced by barriers like English being a second language,” she says.
“It’s our time to make sure we have a voice and to fight for our people’s rights, but to also pave the way for our next generation.”
It also means she’s able to enjoy some valuable mother–daughter time, as her mum, Sally, is Komiti Pasefika’s National Convenor.
“My parents always encouraged us to speak up, they’ve put this fighting spirit in me. My mum plays a huge role in my union journey. I wouldn’t be the person I am without her.”