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CPSU Delegate: Tina Cowen

FAIRNESS and equality: That’s what Tina Cowen is all about. A long time CPSU Member, and a Delegate for years, Tina shares her thoughts on unions, workplaces, Delegates… and more

Tina’s current job in the State Service

I’m in Corporates Services, Accounts Payable – so basically I pay the bills. Because I’m ex-polytechnic I pay Tasmanian Polytechnic and Tasmanian Skills invoices and also Education payments. These are all done slightly differently, they need to be authorised differently. I also look at travel claims, staff reimbursements, petty cash and child care subsidies to name a few.

Before PY10 changes we had electronic purchase order and travel claim systems, but we’ve now gone back to paper based because that’s how education does it. We’ve had lots of changes.

What do you enjoy about your role?

I’ve always been focused on the outside assistance. I started working with the State Government in Adult Ed, where I was Enrolments Officer. So I was talking to the little old lady at the start of the term year after year who needed to get into her bridge club, or helping students get into the right classes. Then I moved away from that, and now that I’m in accounts, people call me up and say “we need payment on this” or “this invoice was made out to the wrong entity”. I talk to staff needing assistance about how to fill in their travel claim or meal allowance. We are on the phone all the time. So, talking to the outside world is what I really enjoy.

On being a Delegate

I started as an elected Delegate in 2001, that’s when I came back from maternity leave. I started with the State Service on March 8 1993 – temporary positions until I became permanent in 1999. At the time, my issues were things like breast feeding and expressing onsite. There were so many other women in 99 Bathurst St back then and there was absolutely nowhere for a new mum to express.

I found the attitudes changed sometimes as well, when you become a mum and can’t give 100%. If they speak to you at 4 o’clock and say ‘we need you to work back until 9pm tonight’ and you can’t do that anymore, there’s a perception that you’re not trying hard enough.

That’s why I became an elected Delegate, although before I was running around with CPSU calendars and things like that. Craig Webb was a Delegate onsite at the time and he was absolutely awesome – he took me under his wing and I felt really comfortable and supported. I think every Delegate needs to feel like that.

Now I’ve had some more experience when talking to managers I try and make sure I have solutions to the problem when I go in. The Delegate needs to think up some alternatives and be a mediator, if you like. At one stage I got caught up in “oh that’s just wrong, you can’t do that” but didn’t have a solution to be able to rectify the problem, so you can’t throw that into the pot.

Nine times out of 10 if you don’t have a solution, it’s just “tough”. For example with people working back. Maybe they could turn up an hour earlier, or instead of having an hour for lunch they could have half-an-hour for lunch. There’s a million and one ways of sorting the problem if you’re happy to explore possibilities. You also seem to be fighting for what we’ve already achieved, which I find frustrating. It’s important to protect what you’ve got – that’s one very strong reason why I stay a Delegate.

On the role of Delegate

My biggest mission today is trying to find a new noticeboard. I also do a lot of the basic things, like with leave “they won’t let me take a couple of days off”. Often it’s about supporting someone. Often if they’re heard or they can talk it out, people find that really helpful. Sometimes once people are validated, they feel better about the issue themselves.

What Tina would like new delegates to know

That you’re not on your own. People become Delegates because they see there’s a need for fairness. That’s why I came onboard. Someone needs to argue on behalf of those who aren’t in their strongest moment. I think it’s so easy to say “oh, it only happened once”, or “maybe I deserved it when he spoke to me like that” – well, no, that’s not on. Also, you don’t have to go in there with guns blazing; do what you can, and stay rational about it.

Tina shares a moment that stands out in her union experience

The Wages Agreement before the current one, when I was part of that mass movement. I was a collective CPSU Member. We went down to the city hall, and the whole atmosphere – it was like you were part of this energy mass. It was the power of not being on your own. That hall was absolutely choc-o-bloc – there were people everywhere.

I actually spoke on that day. I got up on the stage and looked down at all these people and thought, these people are all in the same boat as me. They still want to buy their bread and milk on their way home. They just want to go to work, do what they need to do, enjoy what they do, go home and enjoy what they do there – that’s what we all want. To be able to assist people in doing that – that’s what I get my kicks from.

What she tells others about the union

I would say, alone you strive alone; together you can strive for more. Some people have already made up their minds, and I don’t try to argue the toss. If they ask me how I feel about unions, I say they are there to help me, and not only me, but collectively my group of peers and workmates. Unions are where our OHS comes from, that’s where our holidays come from, that’s where our superannuation and maternity leave came from, and that’s where our eight hour day – or 7.21 came from.

The challenges Tina sees in today’s workplaces

Fairness and equality – yes women are allowed to hold jobs and everything, but the merit process, I’m not sure if it always happens. Also working as a team, I think we’re moving away from that. When changes happen people get into their own corners and safety net themselves. If we could all get in as a team and get the outcomes that are needed. Not everyone has the same opinion, but they need to work with the main focus in mind.

What do you enjoy outside work?

I really like travelling. My son Jaevian and I hop in the car and catch the Spirit quite often and travel around. The last Friday of the Easter school break we went down to Kettering and tried out the new chocolate shop. We went via Cygnet and went back through Huonville and just went exploring. We do a fair bit of that.

Really just enjoying the time with my son, there’s only two of us, so we have a really good relationship. I haven’t made him bungee jump or parachute yet! I’m actually renovating my unit at the moment, so there’s a lot of paint being splashed around.

Beliefs about life

I believe in fairness and equity. You need to give everybody their own space. Everyone’s different, everyone has different opinions. Odds are on they are never as confident as you think they are. Never assume that you know somebody – everyone has their own baggage and their own insecurities, just let everybody be.

On Tasmania

I love Tassie – I love Strahan, Marakoopa caves. I recently did a cruise off Tasman Island and Port Arthur, there were seals, multiple pods of dolphins – we are so lucky in Tassie.

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