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Every day is Mother’s Day for these inspirational union leaders

Being a union leader and working mum produces a huge variety of challenges but not always the ones you might expect.

Unions Tasmania secretary Jessica Munday finds her daughter using her mum’s union work in creative new ways. When asked to clean her room, she responds in true Scott Morrison fashion: “not my job”.

“They are very much union kids who adopt union campaigns and run with them,” Munday says.

Munday comes from a strong union family and was an SDA union member at her very first job at Coles.

Since then, she has participated in massive campaigns such as the defeating the Howard Government’s anti-union WorkChoices legislation in 2007 and the campaign for universal paid parental leave in 2011.

There’s a lot of individual member stories along the way of members who have been unfairly dismissed or who haven’t been treated well from a worker’s comp point of view – there’s a lot of those you don’t see much or don’t make headlines.

Jessica Munday
Unions Tasmania secretary

She notices that as a full-time worker with children, she meets with questions that her husband – also a full-time worker with children – never seems to be asked.

Jessica Munday at the podium with a baby strapped on
Unions Tasmania secretary Jessica Munday

“No one ever asks him how he works full time and has children. I am constantly asked.”

“I remember feeling that really acutely when my first couple of children were very young. I would get asked almost every day or second day.”

“I think that just goes to show that people still have very ingrained bias around expectations of where mothers should be,” Munday says.

Women leaders creating “power and space” for others to follow

In the past couple of decades, more and more women have taken up leadership roles in the Australian union movement, demonstrating powerful styles of leadership that have not before been seen.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) national secretary Melissa Donnelly cites former CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood as one of the many women unionists who have supported her career.

“When I think about women in the [union] movement, I think one of the things we’re really lucky to have now is a number of people to look at,” Donnelly says.

Melissa Donnelly with her young daughter
CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly

“To be a good female leader – whether you’re a mother or not – there’s a whole range of examples that you can look to or inspired by or be guided by.”

“Even being a working mum in the role I’m in now – 10 or 20 years ago, that wouldn’t have thought to be possible. But seeing other people do it in all sorts of roles actually creates power and space,” she says.

Donnelly is the first working mum to be in the role of national secretary at the CPSU – and is also the youngest to hold the position.

Munday’s time at the CPSU has also left an impression with her. She describes the union as “walking the walk” when it comes to promoting women leaders.

“I can always remember it being, from my time there for almost 20 years as a CPSU member, a factor in their staffing and promotion decisions.”

Future ambitions of equal pay, respect at work and napping

Australian unions are challenging the Morrison Government to show up for working women. Whether it be for paid family and domestic violence leave or superannuation on paid parental leave, Morrison has been missing in action for women time and time again.

If Munday were in the Prime Minister’s shoes for a day, equal pay for women would be on the top of the to-do list.

“Women don’t have equal pay. [I’d pass] whatever reforms we needed to put in place to make that happen – knowing there’d be lots of them – but if I could only focus on one issue during my one day as prime minister it’d be equal pay,” Munday says.

Donnelly’s determination is no less intense than Munday’s. Unions have already done the work, it is now just a question of political will and action.

She identifies the Government’s failure, “to enact reforms around [email protected]around industrial relations, around childcare.”

“One of the huge disappointments – of which there are many – there is a roadmap for these things. There is a roadmap to actually increase women’s participation in the workforce. To increase and support women to succeed at work. But the government’s not interested in it.”

Donnelly is happy to have the union movement behind her, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of members just like herself.

“The approach I’ve taken is that I face the same challenges as the average CPSU member who is themselves a woman and often a mother,” she says.

Both Donnelly and Munday are looking forward to a peaceful Mother’s Day. Donnelly will have a family lunch and Munday has similar ambitions of relaxation in the midst of a busy election season.

“My plan is literally to have a nap,” says Munday.

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