Thursday, February 08, 2007

Helen Duncan

Some sad news came through yesterday with the death of former Labour MP Helen Duncan. Helen had been battling cancer for quite a few years.

I didn’t have a huge amount to do with Helen, but met her and Alan on a number of occasions at Labour and union events. Helen was warm and engaging, and extremely down to earth – despite her status as a government MP, she had no aires or graces about her.

In particular I recall her kindness when as a rookie candidate in 2002, I was at some kind of large scale business/ethnic sector event. One of those ones where you don’t know anybody, and apart from engaging in some banal small talk there is little for the Labour candidate for Pakuranga to do. For whatever reason Helen and Alan were there, and Helen no-doubt recognising the signs of a bewildered and slightly at sea candidate, proceeded to very diplomatically take me under her wing as we moved around the room. A small but telling kindness.

A good story, dear to my heart also emerged from the Transport and Industrial Relations select committee, of which Helen was a member, that heard the Employment Relations Bill 2000. The then Head of Westpac Employee Relations (the people who deal with the union) was submitting, and commented that Westpac had over 6000 employees and that changes to employment law had significant consequences for them. I’m paraphrasing here, but Helen said something like “6000 people to negotiate with, wow, that’s a huge commitment in time, people and resources”. “Yes” said the ER Head, “With 6000 employees, running the negotiating process is a huge commitment”. “Well” said Helen, “having more of them come under one Collective Agreement as this Bill promotes will save you a lot of time and money then won’t it?”. “Ummm, well, if you look at it like that, I, ummm, suppose so” continued the beaten bank lobbyist. Touche Helen!

Helen’s background was with NZEI where she was President between 1993 and 1995 and played a major part in some key union battles at that time. She was at the forefront of the fight to keep the primary sector collectivised in the early 1990s as the ECA began to bite, fought against the introduction of bulk funding, and was President at the time NZEI won the historic right to pay parity with secondary teachers.

My thoughts are with Alan and the rest of Helen’s family.


stef said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stef said...

I'm was so surprised to see that and my thoughts are with her family. What a sad loss.

STC said...

When I was first attending meetings at the North Shore LEC Helen was the 'patron' MP.

Helen was always friendly, with all the goss from Welly (some of it she probably shouldn't have been telling!) and a sharp mind on any issue the LEC wanted to discuss.

Even though I'd known she was ill for quite a while, it came as quite a shock.

Rest in peace, Helen Duncan.