Meet Delegate Margaret Horton
Margaret Horton, Clerical Officer, DPIPWE Resource Management & Conservation Division in the Biodiversity Conservation Branch
MEET Margaret Horton. A CPSU Member for more than 10 years, recently Margaret’s put her hand up to be a Workplace Delegate. She works in Biodiversity and Conservation at DPIPWE, supporting the efforts of scientists protecting Tasmania’s flora and fauna.
Below, Margaret talks about herself, her job, and her union role…
I STARTED in the department about 16 years ago. I’m a conservationist, so I’m pleased to have landed here.
I was looking for part-time work at the time because my daughter was about two and I thought it was time to put my paw back in the workforce. It was a part time job for a year – 16 years later I’m still here and it’s almost a full-time job.
I started with the Tasmanian Vegetation Mapping Program. The Regional Forest Agreement mapped the forest and when Tas Veg started they thought they’d map from where the forest ended. It was thought it’d be pretty easy to do this but it turned out to be much more complicated. It resulted in a Tasmanian Vegetation mapping product, which is now what everyone refers to for natural resources in Tassie. It’s an ongoing part of the government now, rather than just a project.
Now I do most of the administration for the branch. My branch rescues whales and other sea life – dolphins, turtles – anything hurt that shows up in our waters.
We probably have the most skilled whale rescue team in the world because Tasmania has more strandings than anywhere else and we’ve developed methods of refloating whales that we’re teaching others around the world.
The branch also includes the Threated Species Section – that’s everything to do with sea eagles, wedge tailed eagles, frogs – anything that’s listed as threatened. The branch also includes the Natural Values Atlas.
Part of my job is talking to the public and giving them advice on problems like having an unwanted possum in the roof to finding out what to do about plovers’ nests in the middle of school sports grounds.
In a way we are like the scientific arm of Parks and Wildlife and most of the people working in the branch are scientists. Anytime Parks wants to do work in a natural area or reserve, such as a fuel reduction burn, that request comes through us. For example, we’d recommend a burn should happen at this time so it doesn’t affect this certain frog or it won’t affect this bird’s breeding season.
We’ve also got vessels that we use for the whale and dolphin rescue work so I need to make sure they’re maintained and registered. My job is a lot like running a small businessand I do everything from administering grants to fixing the photocopier.
The Commonwealth and State Governments fund us to work on Macquarie Island, where Parks eradicated all the rats and rabbits this year. I’d help organise expeditions to Macquarie Island, the medical checks, dealing with the grants, all the volunteers and managing invoices. Each area of branch activity that’s not scientific, somehow I’ve got my paw in it.
It’s an incredibly diverse job that I really enjoy. It’s always busy and the day just flies past. My job’s all about supporting the scientists so they can do their work. They are all very hardworking people. It’s funny because often there’s this misconception that public servants are lazy and sitting around not doing a lot but in reality they are people working really hard. Like in this branch – you can’t manage natural resources from a desk, and everyone’s always so busy especially doing field work.
In DPIPWE Margaret’s seen the impact of a tight government budget.
When I started here and a member of the public called up about an issue like a possum in their roof , we could send someone out to assist them, whereas now, most of the time we can only offer advice.
One of our biggest fears is job loss. We tend to get treated quite well but there’s the fear with the public service getting cut back that we might have to go or another service we offer will be cut. In DPIPWE a lot of staff are on contracts that are ending and can’t be extended because of a lack of funding.
Before starting at DPIPWE, Margaret had a diverse career. She worked for the Wilderness Society as their Fundraiser and National Membership Co-ordinator and before that she worked for about 15 years in theatre administration with Salamanca Theatre Company and Terrapin Puppet Theatre. Margaret was also a Treasurer of the Salamanca Arts Centre for many years and in the early 80s when she was 23 she opened a restaurant in North Hobart called Milliways, after the Restaurant at the end of the Universe well known to fans of the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy book.
IN OCTOBER 2001 Margaret joined the CPSU.
I’ve always been supportive of unions. My first union experience was when I was working in what’s now Fullers Bookshop but known as OBM’s at the corner of Elizabeth & Collins Street. Paul Lennon was the union rep who came in and talked to me about joining the union. Not long after that there was a strike and we all went down to the outside of Parliament House, which I thought was pretty cool. It was a fight for salary and conditions that we won. Pretty early on I realised if one person walks into a room you might not get listened to – but if 30 people walk into a room about an issue they’re going to get listened to.
Also I’ve known about 10 or more people who’ve gone to the union because of serious issues and they’ve been resolved really well by the union. Sometimes people say “the union doesn’t make a difference” but actually it does. The union’s often the only thing between a worker and management and if you don’t have someone to go in and bat for you then you’re in it alone.
With a sensitive issue such as change management, management can move an employee from here to there, and do it badly, and the worker gets massively stressed and takes it to the Industrial Commission. In that situation, HR can just keep on throwing new people at the problem, and without the union there’s only you and these things can drag on for 7-8 months. If you don’t have the union helping you I think you’d go under. You’d just want out. Whereas the union would help you keep fighting for your rights.
I believe people should be a member even if they’re not experiencing any problems at work. You never know when something could happen.
MARGARET started as a Delegate this year after another DPIPWE Delegate in the building retired. They’ve quite liked having a Delegate again, and having someone to run things past. There wasn’t a Delegate for our third and fourth floors and I just mentioned to CPSU Organiser Luke Middleton that if he needed a contact to help distribute calendars I’d be happy to do it. The more we got talking the more interested I became, and he asked if I’d like to become a Delegate. It’s been really interesting.
I’m also a member of the OH&S Divisional Committee and I help with OH&S matters for both the Branch and the Division. I’m passionate about OH&S. We’re rewriting a lot of Job Risk Analyses so if someone needs to go out into the field, on a boat or climb a tree, you write a risk safety analysis so they know what to do to get the job done safely.
In January the new OH&S laws came in so I’ve been trying to get an understanding of that over the last few years. This OH&S role seems to dovetail nicely with my union work because it’s about looking after the welfare of the people you work with. So it’s that caring, nurturing role. That’s what I like about it, making sure people are looked after and they’re not mistreated in the workplace.
Luke gets all the Delegates in the Lands Building to meet once every three months, which has been great.
One of the issues Margaret finds frustrating is people who won’t join the union. Many seem happy to sit back and let the union do all the negotiations and benefit from that, but I think they’d all want to join the union if they had a serious problem.
I’ve talked to a few people who aren’t members, and some have been really anti-union because of a bad experience in the past – I’m talking years and years ago. It’s my aim to get some more people in my branch to join the union and put the past behind them.
You get to claim the union fees on your tax – it’s not much and you really don’t notice it out of your pay. Union Membership is like insurance – it’s insurance against things not going so well.
LIKE her work life, Margaret’s personal life is also busy, married with two teenage children.
I’ve got a 17-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. My daughter’s doing first year matric. You’ve got all the kids sporting activities and everything else that usually involves driving them around.
I’m on five acres so that keeps me busy planting trees and looking after the garden. It seems like weekends just fly by.
My husband’s into family history so often we go and visit various graveyards around Tasmania. It’s interesting – we went up to Stanley a few weeks ago and that was amazing – we went to the graveyard and I was looking at my father’s great great-great grandparent’s tombstones. Our kids are used to being dragged off to graveyards since they were babies, which sounds a bit weird!
We all like bike riding but in the warmer months I like to go rubber-ducking on rivers. We whack our helmets on and shoot down a few rapids – it’s great.
Having previously worked in the theatre, Margaret tries to see as many productions as possible. She was for many years the Chairwoman of KickStart Arts which does wonderful community theatre.
The CPSU’s excited to have Margaret on board as a Delegate. Delegates are vital in workplaces – and are a way of helping to identify issues and making sure union members are heard.