Jessica Munday is smart, strong, articulate and driven.
She’s also the face of the union movement in Tasmania.
Her mission is to increase membership and involvement in the state’s unions.
Ms Munday’s energy knows no bounds.
She lives, eats and breathes unionism.
And she is getting runs on the board.
Union membership remains higher in Tasmania than the national average and recent May Day rallies in the state attracted record numbers.
It sits at about 20 per cent or 50,000.
Unions Tasmania, the body she heads, is about to move into new headquarters in Hobart.
In July it will relocate from the premises in North Hobart it has called home for nearly 20 years.
One of the state’s biggest unions, United Voice, and other smaller unions will also set up in the new headquarters with Unions Tasmania.
Ms Munday, who is amusingly coy about her age, was born in Paddington in Sydney but came to Tasmania when she was 10 days old and grew up in Kingborough where she still lives.
Her parents struggled financially and she lied about her age to get her first job at a local bakery when she was 13 and a half.
“My dad was a sole parent and we were supported by Centrelink. So, I got a job as soon as I could because living on Centrelink is tough and it didn’t leave much money at the end of a fortnight.
“If I wanted independence or to be able to do things with my friends, I worked to pay for it.”
At 15 she began working on the checkout at the local Coles supermarket and when she left home at 18 to go to university she worked at the Commonwealth Bank’s new call centre.
The energetic teenager also joined the Army Reserve where the tax free income also supplemented her studies.
She went to work for Centrelink and during the induction process she met the union delegate.
“As soon as the presentation was over I walked down to the union delegates’ office, handed in my form and asked how do I get more involved?” Ms Munday recalled.
She was a delegate a few weeks later and 18 months later an aunt suggested she apply for a job as an organiser with the federal Community and Public Sector Union.
“My dad’s sisters were all union women and strong influences in my life,” Ms Munday said.
“It was an amazing time to come into the union movement.
“I think this is why I’ll always be union because I left to work for the CPSU just after the Howard Government got re-elected and introduced WorkChoices.
“We were having nationwide, mass rallies, with hundreds of thousands of people.
“It was the fight of our lives and we had people joining the union movement from the community sector and the religious sector.”
Ms Munday said the union movement worked hard to kill off WorkChoices.
She worked with the CPSU for 12 years and in what she admits was a hard decision she left the top job as secretary to go to Unions Tasmania.
“I loved the CPSU and I was happy there but I wanted to take up the fight for all workers,” Ms Munday said.
Her vision is to establish a union presence in the community and hold the government and “shitty employers” to account.
“Part of my local plan is relocating us into a new, fit for purpose union home that sets us up for the future,” Ms Munday said.
“Tasmanian workers know, perhaps more than others how the system is broken and failing them. It is about building capacity amongst the movement and that doesn’t sound very sexy but we have been since I came into the role relatively slowly but surely building our structures outside the workplace.
“One of my focuses has been to bring unions and their members together to campaign not just in workplaces but in the community.”
She is adamant that the casualisation of the workforce prevents some workers from joining a union.
“We know that members who have a secure job are more likely to stand up for their rights if they are being ripped off,” Ms Munday said.
“I don’t think people fear joining a union but I think it’s the fear of losing their job because they know if they’re casual they are vulnerable.
“They are vulnerable because if they are casual they know their boss isn’t going to tell them the reason they’ve been sacked is because they’ve joined the union..
“They’re just not going to get any shifts and not be given any reason for that and that’s legal and really hard to prove you’ve been discriminated against.”
Ms Munday is keen for better education of students about their rights in the workplace.
“It’s not built into the curriculum, but we try to speak to working age students in colleges,” she said.
“We think people’s rights to join a union and access to industrial information should be right up there with the same information that they are getting around workplace health and safety.”
Ms Munday concedes criminal behaviour by some union leaders interstate have not helped grow the membership.
“I like everyone else who works for the union movement is more affronted than Joe Blow because in my experience the majority of people who work for unions have come off the shop floor, they’ve worked their way up and they care deeply about their members,” she said.
Ms Munday is heartened by the popularity of Sally McManus, who was elected ACTU secretary last year.
“In the past three weeks the ACTU has had a record number of people inquiring about how to join a union,” she said.
“Sally is saying things that workers have been thinking for years and she’s not afraid to challenge the power base.”
Ms Munday who replaced Steve Walsh when he retired early is up for election in October and hopes she will have the support of the 26 unions affiliated with Unions Tasmania.
She is proud that her husband Scott, has been elected a delegate of his union without any prompting from her and is equally as proud when their two children Stella, 7, and Peter, 5, march by her side at union rallies.
Ms Munday dismisses speculation she will run for parliament.
“All I’m focussed on is making the Tasmanian union movement as strong as it can be,” she said.