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Then & Now @ The Coalface

Ever wondered how some people started and what led them to where they are now? This month we asked some of the Mining and Energy Union team to share their journey.

Clare Bailey – MEU Central Councillor, Open Cut Operator

I was born and raised in rural Wybong, west of Muswellbrook. My father was a strong union member, working in a number of coal mines over the years.

After completing school, I found myself drawn to an unexpected path – cheesemaking – which was a shift from the nursing career I had imagined for myself.

After several years of a successful cheesemaking career, I secured a traineeship in the mine that my father works in. Those two years were formative, surrounded by the camaraderie of the Bayswater Lodge and mentored by seasoned miners.

Six years ago, I joined a greenfield operation in the Hunter Valley and my journey into unionism truly began. Starting from scratch, a few colleagues and I recognised the need for collective action and resolved to establish a Lodge.

As the Lodge Secretary, I played a pivotal role in nurturing our small lodge, whose membership initially numbered no more than a handful but has now grown to over 200 members. I developed a strong urge to represent the rights of the workforce after an experience where I was forced to stand up for myself as a worker.

Driven by a deep-seated desire to advocate for the rights of the workforce, I took on increasingly prominent roles within our union. From being elected to our District Board of Management to soon becoming National Female Central Councillor starting in July. My journey into union leadership has been both fulfilling and humbling. My union work keeps me busy and feeds my passion for helping others.

Tony Watson – Northern District Industry Safety and Health Representative (ISHR or Check Inspector)

Growing up in Kurri Kurri, I’ve been surrounded by the mining industry for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with a long tradition of coal mining in the Hunter.

After leaving school I got a job at West Wallsend Colliery and kicked off what has been a long and varied career. I’ve worked in many roles in the industry, including in open cut and underground mines, and at times been a permanent, a contractor, and a labour hire worker.

In 2004 I was working at Newpac (now Ravensworth) which needed a new Site Safety and Health Representative (Site Check Inspector). Les Yates, a Northern District ISHR at the time, asked me to take over the role of Site Check Inspector for a short time and I agreed – on a temporary basis. Before I knew it I had spent a decade in the role.

In 2017 I was elected as a Northern District Check Inspector. Check inspectors are unique to coal mining and have been part of our industry since coal miners in the Hunter Valley campaigned for worker-elected inspectors in the late 1800s. They knew that workers needed an independent voice when it came to advocating for safety.

I love my job, especially participating in the processes that keep people safe, and that set the standards which we all work under.

Part of my role involves travelling to different mine site and discussing health and safety matters with workers at the face, I really enjoy getting to do something different every day.

Then & Now @ The Coalface

Grahame Kelly – General Secretary

Growing up in Singleton, the Miners’ Union has always had a strong tradition in our region. Seeing the miners sticking up for their rights at work and for their communities has been a lifelong influence for me.

I joined the industry in 1985 at Warkworth mine, first as a trade assistant and later as a washery operator. At the same time, I joined the Warkworth Lodge.

In 1996 I was elected as Warkworth Lodge Secretary, before joining the Northern District Board of Management, the governing body of the Union in the Hunter.

In 2006, I left Warkworth to take up a position as a District Vice President. This was an incredible opportunity to expand my activism and advocacy. Three years later I was elected as District Secretary, which I served proudly for over a decade.

I was fortunate to serve alongside the respected and influential District President Peter Jordan, who led us admirably through some of the longest and most challenging disputes our Union has seen. I am particularly proud of our Singleton Communities not Camps campaign, which stopped the introduction of FIFO in the Hunter and secured an economic future for my hometown.

Since 2017, I have been the General Secretary of the Union. I also sit on the boards of the Coal Long Service Leave Corporation and the Mates in Mining suicide prevention charity. This is a far cry from the washplant at Warkworth, but my motivation remains the same. I have always advocated for the rights and interests of mining and energy workers, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.

Then & Now @ The Coalface

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