Six years after Tegel Taranaki Head Delegate Charlie Ross took on the role, he’s watching workforce changes make an impact on the union. Charlie has helped grow membership to about 100 members – about 50% density. He says he’d like to do better but high turnover means constant new faces on the factory floor, many of them young people who, Charlie says, know little about unions.
“They don’t really know what a union is, so it’s hard,” he says. It’s certainly not like the old days when young workers were automatically signed up, like Charlie was. Charlie makes sure these workers see the union in action on site: “I did that with one of our young guys, I went to a meeting with him and showed him what we do as union reps. Afterwards, he said, ‘Thanks for that, bring a form in and I’ll join.’”
Young workers are important to Charlie’s kaupapa: it’s why he became involved in the Just Transition work in Taranaki, where E tū plays a strong role. “It’s our future, for our mokopuna and that’s why I decided to take part,” he says.
Charlie was in our E tū delegation at the Just Transition Summit in New Plymouth, and was, like most, left a bit shell-shocked by the scale of the event and the challenges ahead.
“That was an amazing thing, quite engrossing, a huge thing to get your head around,” says Charlie. He says it’s been an amazing journey, from the pre-Summit meetings to the Summit itself as well as the post Summit meetings, where our delegates have been exploring how to put a Just Transition into action.
Charlie was recently invited to Parihaka as part of the post-Summit out-reach programme to update the community on Summit initiatives, like the Roadmap. He says he was surprised to learn how well-briefed local iwi were: “They had people who went to the Summit! Their delegates really enjoyed it,” says Charlie.
It’s a measure of how involved people in the region are – but not everyone. Charlie is disappointed in the obvious disinterest of farmers, few of whom attended the Summit. He’s finding climate change a difficult subject to raise even at on-site union meetings, as he did recently. “We brought the subject up. I got abused by our members. They said: ‘What do we want to know about 2050; that’s all political, Charlie.’”
Charlie says that’s mainly older members, but he’s pleased that many others were interested enough to ask questions, fill out forms, and to get involved.
Charlie is very aware of the need for action, not just talk post-Summit: “How about instead of that $20 million research they just buy up farms and make things happen,” he says.
Well, everyone in Taranaki has an opinion on where to next!
Meanwhile, Charlie promotes decent jobs with good pay and conditions for workers in any Just Transition: “It’s important – family, good pay, standard of living, and the Living Wage.”