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Farewell to AWU Legend Wayne Phillips

December 17, 2020

It was the end of one era with a farewell to an Australian Workers’ Union legend but the start of a new chapter for the AWU NSW branch.

Members, delegates, organisers, supporters and politicians gathered in Unanderra, just south of Wollongong, to mark the opening of the new AWU NSW branch office and the retirement of Wayne Phillips who was instrumental in preventing the closure of BlueScope in 2015 and saving thousands of jobs.

AWU NSW Branch Secretary and AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton paid tribute to the years of dedication that Wayne had put into the union movement, and noted that the Save our Steelworks campaign had taken a physical and emotional toll on Wayne.

Wayne was honoured by AWU officials, organisers, delegates and members.

Wayne, who joined the AWU in 2005 from the Metal Workers’ Union, said whilst the BlueScope battle was especially important, every dispute deserved full attention.

Wayne said: “We’ve always had a go and whilst we may not have won them all we gave everything. We have the best leadership team, the best executive and the best delegates and without them we would be nothing.

“When we took on BlueScope we tried a different approach. If we had done what we normally had done I am sure it would have shut. As hard as it was for the employees it was the right thing to do.

“And now we still have the industry and we will have it here for the future too. The AWU has been in this region for 134 years and I am confident it will be here for another 134 years.

“The new offices show a commitment that we are here to stay and to grow. But my time is now up.”

The new AWU NSW office named a meeting room in honour of Wayne.

Wayne joined the union movement soon after he started work at the steelworks in 1978.

In 1982 he was retrenched and out of work for around eight months. Being retrenched was not easy but it gave him valuable insight into what it was like to go through tough times.

He joined the AWU in 2005 and four years later was elected Assistant Branch Secretary and National Conference Delegate of the Port Kembla, South Coast and Southern Highlands Branch.

In 2012 Wayne became Branch Secretary and four years later was elected Assistant Branch Secretary, National Conference Delegate and National Vice President of the newly merged NSW Branch.

An amalgamation that has only made the AWU stronger here in the Illawarra and South Coast.

Mr Walton said: “Wayne’s known to nearly every single person in the Illawarra through his infamous trade union activities spread over many decades.

“Frankly we wouldn’t be standing here today in our new offices with the steelworks still operating if it wasn’t for the work that he did a few years ago when we worked together in trying to keep the steelworks alive.”

It was a sentiment echoed by AWU NSW Assistant Branch Secretary Tony Callinan.
Mr Callinan said: “We’re proud of our long and deep association with the Illawarra and its extraordinary industrial heritage which Wayne was a huge part of. And we look forward to building upon his legacy in our new offices.”

Wayne was presented with a plaque by AWU National Vice President Paul Farrow, which will take pride of place at the new offices.

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