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Karen Johns – AWU Gold Member

August 16, 2021

Karen Johns, an AWU Gold Member for nearly 40 years, saw the power of union membership through her experience in the Queensland aged-care and disability sectors.

“I work for Disability Services Queensland as a Residential Care Officer, supporting intellectually disabled clients so that they can live independent lives.

I became involved with the AWU in about 1982 on a previous job in an aged-care home, where management was tight with money, and they were not going to pay us penalties to work on our Ipswich Show day. And I thought, that’s wrong.

So I rang around until I found a union that covered aged care – and that’s the AWU.

Up until that point management had been bullying us and disregarding us. They knew everything they were doing was wrong, but because there were no union members on-site they just kept doing it.

Then one man from the AWU walks in – organiser Garry Ryan – and he didn’t even need to say a thing. All of these things that should have been done and hadn’t been magically appeared.

Most domestic staff signed up with the AWU after that. I moved to another site where there were five members and as a delegate signed up 31 more. And when I arrived at DSQ there was 80-90% union membership so I felt quite at home.

It’s great when we meet management and all we have to say is “that’s not happening”.  They know we have the full support of the AWU and its members, so they won’t mess with us. We will do whatever it takes to right the wrong.

Most times it’s simply about negotiating, we don’t go in with steel boots kicking, but they know that’s there if we need to.

I tell people that in our field we deal with money, we deal with medication, we deal with people, and you will make mistakes as you’re only human. The union is your safety net, your information highway, and you’ll have access to delegates and organisers – call us, we will ring you back.

I also say that this is a job with great conditions, but everything we have was won on the backs of union members who have done the hard yards.”


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