Determined work on behalf of Australian Workers’ Union members at a northern NSW sugar mill has left Dequin Wade in a sweet spot as NSW Delegate of the Year.
Dequin has worked at the Condong Sugar Mill, run by Sunshine Sugar outside of Murwillumbah, for 18 years.
Her first decade was in the retail plant, where she started on the packing floor then moved outside to be a forklift operator loading trucks and warehousing. For the past eight years she has been a cane supply operator during the production season.
“I deal with the cane harvesters, truck drivers, all the logistics to do with that to ensure the mill has enough cane to keep crushing 24 hours,” Dequin says
The rest of the year she is involved in maintenance; everything from assisting tradesmen, spraying cane pads and mapping, to working in the store.
Dequin has been an AWU member since she began at Condong in 2003, and became a delegate in 2011. It’s a challenging job with big rewards.
“Some days it’s hard but there are times when I really love it,” she says. “Generally I think the work site is good. Sometimes there are issues, but I love my job, generally it’s great.”
As an AWU delegate her biggest win involved ensuring correct overtime pay for staff.
“We have dogmen, scaffolders and riggers who are labourers, and when they start the higher duties they are paid an allowance,” she says.
“All of a sudden while on overtime they started only paying them for the time they did the higher duties jobs, so if they worked eight hours overtime and only worked as a rigger for two hours they only got paid the higher rate for the two hours.
“We disputed it, took them to the Industrial Commission and won, and now on overtime the allowance has to be paid for the whole shift.”
AWU North Coast organiser Steve Carter, who nominated Dequin for the award, met her 10 years ago when there were virtually no AWU members on site.
“She got the membership going virtually from scratch and they are now well organised,” Steve says. “She got membership up from 10 or 12 on site to about 30.”
Steve says Dequin has faced some big challenges, including a run of family tragedy in 2019 and 2020, during which she also was involved in the site’s EBA negotiations.
“At one point I suggested perhaps she would like to step back for a while, but she declined, saying she wanted to stay on a support her workmates.
“She has a very good attitude, that’s partly why I put her forward (for the award). She is strong, has an ideal character for a delegate, and has a lot of common sense.”
Dequin says working in a male-dominated workplace it is still hard, “as you find women are still not being treated equally.
“But the majority of the time I am respected by my members and by management.
“And I would encourage any female who is interested in being a delegate to do it – just do it. Don’t be intimidated, just contact your local organiser.
“I contact Steve and he supports me in every way I go. Leah Tucker, who started the Women’s Conference, has also been a huge supporter.
“You get huge support from the union, but as a female those two have helped me get through stuff when I felt I was feeling beaten down.”