MUA National Women's Committee representative Krista Grace attended the first RMTU women's conference in New Zealand
It was with pleasure and pride, I represented the National Women's Committee in the recent inaugural women's forum of the RMTU (Rail, Maritime, Transport Union New Zealand). The theme of the forum: "Growing Women's Strength Through Unity".
Held in the scenic town of Wellington New Zealand, on arrival I was greeted by the inspirational Ruth Blakeley, a Ship Planner at the Port of Otago on New Zealand's South Island. Ruth briefed me quickly of what to expect and the reason for my visit. It was made apparent to me that similar to the MUA, the RMTU were challenged in respect to their female members needing to be more proactive within the union moment.
Within the MUA we have the good fortune to have an official Women's Liaison Officer, Mich-Elle Myers, as well as a National Women's Committee in place. The National Women's Committee represents both seafaring and stevedoring women and was created due to the perseverance and hard work of active members, including Sue Virago and Karen Wheatland.
A Women's Liaison Officer was something that the RMTU lacked and it was established quickly that the women needed to make a decision on how they wished to be represented.
During the course of the conference I was asked to speak on my experiences of being a female seafarer in a male dominated industry. I spoke of when I first got away to sea in 1985, working as a stewardess on board the Abel Tasman to now working as the chief cook onboard one of our remaining tankers, Teekays, Alexander Spirit.
I spoke on the challenges I had faced during my time at sea, however I was quick to point out that the majority of my sea going life has been positive, with the men I've worked with, showing respect, friendship and comradery.
I relayed to the woman that I was fortunate, as I was able to rely on the Union at state and federal levels, as well as my union sisters to help me through difficult situations, explaining that being proactive within the MUA has empowered me; giving me strength and courage to face my adversaries knowing that I have the full backing of the union behind me.
During the course of the forum the RMTU women decided to vote for a female representative. At present this position is voluntary, however I believe it's a step forward to the inclusion of women within the RMTU.
The forum was structured, however not so much that the women didn't feel comfortable in sharing their experiences. A lot of grievances were shared, including sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying and exclusion.
We discussed ways for women to keep in contact, via emails, newsletters and came to the decision that the best way was to start up a facebook group, not dissimilar to our own MUA Women's Group. This has now been implemented and is slowly gaining momentum with the RMTU members.
I enjoyed my time in New Zealand immensely, it was a pity that I had to fly back to Australia in a frantic rush to join the ship. I thank the RMTU for inviting me and their warm and friendly hospitality. I met some amazing women, formed new friendships and made long lasting alliances.