Looking forward to the future – member profile

E tū Women’s Convenor, Wheeti Haenga

Congratulations to Wheeti Haenga – who was elected as the new Women’s Committee Convenor at our Women’s Conference in June.

It’s a whole new challenge for Wheeti, who has years of experience as a delegate, first with the Meat Workers Union, during nine years at the Tirau meatworks, and later at Carter Holt Harvey in Tokoroa, where she works as a stacker operator, tagging and marking up wood for processing.

Wheeti first joined a union aged 15 after her family found her a job with the Post Office in Wellington. It was the 1970s and a time of union activism: “I remember we did a protest – Holyoake was in government then!” she says.

But it was the meatworks where she first made her mark after her mostly male co-workers asked her to be their delegate.

“I was working with all these young guys; they’d work hard out on the cool chain, and then I discovered they were being offered a keg of beer and a BBQ for doing extra work on a Friday. I said, “Why are you doing that? Why don’t you just take the money and use it for your family?” So they asked me to be the delegate: one of them thought I must have had the biggest mouth!”

It was tough for a woman in such a male-dominated industry, but it was also a great delegate’s apprenticeship. Then, when she moved to Carter Holt Harvey, she was soon asked to be a delegate there, too.

“At the time, there were no women delegates and that’s why I put my hand up; I also work as a Health and Safety Rep on the site Committee so I’ve had my fingers in a number of pies.”

She admits her time as a Women’s Committee member has been an eye-opener, as she compared their bare-bones pay and conditions with the much more generous terms at Carter Holt Harvey.

“There are no problems at Carter Holt Harvey about approaching our managers personally with problems but with the other women on the committee, they don’t have that luxury. I have to remind myself we get what we get through our bargaining and others don’t have it so easy.”

Wheeti praises delegates, like Linda Bevin and Karen Brown, who have won cross-union support for including domestic violence clauses in collective agreements – rights now recognised in Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Act (more overleaf).

“What they’ve done is great. At our site, we get generous leave so we’re covered, but hopefully the clause can be worked into collectives as well.”

Wheeti pays tribute to the Committee members she’ll be working with as Convenor.

“For me it’ll be two years of learning and I feel quite humbled. I just see myself as a leader in a committee that’s come forward from all areas and ethnicities and it’s not about me – it’s about working together as a committee.

“We’re all one. We’ve also got young ones there to spice things up. I thought, ‘Wow! I’m looking forward to the future!’”