Domestic and international trade union leaders have paid tribute to former President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly, who died overnight following a battle with cancer at the age of 52.
Kelly was well known in trade union circles as a strong advocate for working men and women everywhere.
Local media reports today said Kelly rose to national prominence fighting for safer conditions in the forestry and mining sectors following deaths at Pike River Mine in 2010 and a string of logging fatalities.
Kelly drove around the country to support victims' families and spearheaded court cases fighting for accountability for those workers' deaths.
Kelly resigned from the CTU in October 2015, eight months after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, despite having never smoked.
While undergoing chemotherapy, Kelly kept campaigning for the right to die with dignity and the right to use medicinal cannabis to combat pain and nausea.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President Paddy Crumlin told the MUA National Council in Sydney that Kelly remained dignified to the very end, paying tribute to her influential role in the long-running Ports of Auckland dispute.
"Helen was acutely aware of the tremendously demanding challenges to unions and workers not just in her own country but around the world,” Crumlin said.
“In the Ports of Auckland dispute there wasn’t anybody more committed or more determined to get those wharfies back in the gate.
"After being diagnosed with cancer, Helen faced up to it with such courage and determination and remained dignified and always accepting of the great difficulties.
“Helen is a great loss to the movement, a great loss to her family, and also our holistic campaign to create a more decent and functional world."
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow said she was still trying to deal with the fact we’ve lost a friend as well as a colleague.
“Helen's compassion and love for people was boundless and her thirst for justice made her a warrior for working people,” Burrow said.
“Despite her illness, Helen was still preoparing cases for forestry workers last week and that epitomises her selflessness - more than anybody I know.
Burrow said Kelly was concerned about the day-to-day plight of working people and spent a lot of time thinking about our future.
“Helen had a big future and could have done anything,” Burrow said.
"I think of New Zealand and Australia as being a family and Helen was a national hero.
"This is a sad day but her life force will be with us in the decisions we make."
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said Kelly would be sorely missed by all in the Labour movement.
“Helen was a terrific unionist, a working classs wrrior will be sadly missed,” Oliver said.
“The union movement in New Zealand and internationally will be deeply saddened by the loss of Helen."
Kelly leaves behind her son Dylan from a previous marriage and long-term partner Steve Hurring, whom she married in 2015, after her cancer diagnosis.
MUA National Council observed a minute’s silence in her honour.