Leading through service

Gadiel is the first Co-President at E tū of Pasefika descent

Elected in July, Gadiel Asiata is E tū’s new Co-President. A member of the E tū National Executive and Northern Region Convenor for Komiti Pasefika with many years of leadership experience in unions, Gadiel is also running for the Manurewa Local Board in the local body elections this October.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I’m the youngest of nine. My mum and dad moved to New Zealand from Samoa in the 1960s due to the labour shortage back in the day, to start a family here and give us the best opportunities that we could have. They also sent money back home. Outside of my community and union work, I do a night shift as a technical specialist at Griffins, training staff and overseeing that on the factory floor.

How did you come to be involved in unions?

Being the youngest, I was the last of my siblings living at home with my parents, so when I finished high school I didn’t have the opportunity to further my studies because we had a mortgage to pay. My first job when I was 18 was at a cheese factory (now owned by Fonterra) on the assembly line. It didn’t sit right with me the way management treated and spoke to our people. One day I stood up to management and was called into a disciplinary. I remembered my parents saying to get hold of the union. I didn’t even know what a union was. But I managed to save myself and my job. After the meeting, the organiser asked me if I wanted to be a delegate. I asked, “What does that mean?” He told me it was a chance to stand up for people. “Sign me up!” I said. That was how I became a delegate for the Dairy Workers Union. At 18, after going to my FIRST Union conference, I also became the convenor of their Rūnanga. I held both positions until I was made redundant from Fonterra in 2007.

What does a typical day look like for you right now?

I do a 12am–8am shift at Griffins to pay the wages. Then I’m out and about door knocking and meeting up with people in the community for at least four hours in the morning. I’m also making sure the community is ok as many lost their jobs during
Covid-19, so I’m involved with a Pacific Vibes Market where local people can bring food, baking, and arts and crafts to sell. I take two choir groups at my church, where I’m a music director. It’s really fulfilling – teaching and hearing what I’ve put together come out. My ministry – the way I give back to God – is through music.

You’re the first E tū Co-President of Pasefika descent. What does it mean to you to be elected to this position?

I would like to give back to the union what they’ve given me over the years, bringing my own Pasefika flair to it as well, and show the diversity of E tū. I want to lead from the heart and to privilege the voices of all workers. Being born in New Zealand but with Samoan heritage, I feel comfortable in traversing the different cultures in our union.

What motivates you to lead in your community?

I’ve always been taught to lead a life of service, and I stand on my parents’ shoulders and those of many other people. Leadership for us is leading through service. Whatever contribution I have to give, it’s for the greater good of people and to watch our communities flourish.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I play a couple of instruments, so I like to spend time on my piano. I also love spending quality time with my mum and those who are close to me – even if it’s just getting a coffee. Every moment is precious.

What’s one thing E tū members may be surprised to learn about you?

I’m actually a fraternal twin. He’s totally the opposite to me – tall and a rugby league player! But I’m the matai in our family.