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Victorian Delegate of the Year: Kylie Herriot

July 21, 2021

AWU Victorian Branch Delegate of the Year Kylie Herriot has 1.9 million reasons why being a union member makes sense.

That’s how much she and her union – the Swim Instructors Association, an arm of the AWU – won in back pay for her co-workers last year.

Kylie was working at the Nunawading Swimming Club, primarily in the schools swimming program. It was a job she loved, especially as its flexible days and hours gave her the time to care for her young family.

But early last year she began questioning whether swim teachers at Nunawading were being underpaid, especially compared to other Victorian pool centres.

“We took it to management to negotiate, but they said no, even though coaches at other pools were being paid significantly more,” Kylie says.

“I spoke to the union, who said we needed to get more members. So I started a drive to recruit swimming teachers.”

Kyle says she became the delegate after she had taken it on herself to do the hard work during Melbourne’s lockdown.

“As the member numbers grew they asked me to volunteer. We started with none, then two, and ended up with 50 members.”

Kylie says she told management the workers were being underpaid, threatened to report them to the Fair Work Ombudsman, and they were forced to negotiate.

“It took a lot of work and at one stage they sacked us all – three weeks into JobKeeper,” she says.

“We threatened to go to media and protest outside the local council building if they didn’t give us our jobs back within 24 hours.

“It was a bit hairy sitting in meetings with the Nunawading legal team. But the settlement eventually came to $1.9 million plus super.”

Kylie says the settlement covered 351 staff who worker on site at one time or another over a six-year period from 2013.

“It was quite a surprise as I thought they might owe us $3000 or $4000. In the end the back payments ranged from $15,000 up to $75,000 each for AWU members who were there for the whole six years.”

Kylie says she couldn’t have done it without AWU organisers Guy Stevenson and Catherine Hinton: “They were great help, always good, always open to sit down and help.

“On my own it would have been impossible to find time to deal with all the factors, such as how many people were working and how many hours.”

With the dispute behind her Kylie has moved to a new role at Knox Leisure Works. She delights in saying she has since bought many of her Nunawading workers with her.

“It’s been really good as swim teachers are in short supply.

“Now I am a manager, I tell all new workers they should join their union.

“Things can go so wrong for people in this industry and Nunawading was only the tip of the iceberg. The award is difficult to read and lot of people take advantage of that.

“I am no pushover, but I’m fair and don’t like people taking advantage of others, especially young workers.”

What does she think about being delegate of the year: “It was great to be recognised by others for the work and time I put into it.

“And I encourage others to join our union – the Swim Instructors Association. It’s small and it needs to get bigger.”


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