Q + A with Laura Birch, women's rep on state council

As far back as late 2015, our national Divisional Council agreed to a change to our Union’s rules to include an Affirmative Action position for women on State and Divisional Councils.

At July’s quadrennial election, those AA positions were officially filled across the country for the first time.

Here in Victoria, Laura Birch, the head of the ETU Vic Women’s Committee, has stepped up to the task and now sits as a full voting member on our State Council and State Executive.

We caught up with Laura to chat about what the role means for her and what her vision is moving forward.

Q. How have you been finding our State council and Executive meetings?

Very interesting. 

Like most people I have never been a big fan of meetings, so it feels strange to say that, but I genuinely find it interesting to hear the differing thoughts and amount of discussion and that goes into every decision made for the direction of the union and our members.

Initially I didn’t know what to expect from State Council and Exec and to be honest it all sounded rather intimidating. But after being warmly welcomed by the other councillors and observing a number of meetings from the sidelines I felt ready to join in the conversation.

Now it’s no longer intimidating but an honour to represent members, particularly the women in our union, on such important decision-making bodies.

Q. How do you think your election to State Council and now State Executive is going to help our women comrades in our union?

Hopefully significantly!

We now have a seat at the table, we now have a voice. It’s a really exciting time.

Not only has the ETU Women’s Committee been a great place to connect and provide support to one another, it has also allowed the women in our ranks to raise issues and provide recommendations which now can be raised directly to State Council and Executive as a united voice.

Q. What are your main goals for the position over the next 4 years?

There are a lot.

My main goals are to focus on the promotion of the trade to more women and the retention of women in the trade.

After speaking to a number of women who have left the industry, I soon discovered that they were often leaving for similar reasons and more upsettingly, preventable ones.

It is my goal to tackle these issues and make the workplace more inclusive for both women and men alike.

Q. What kind of projects are the Women’s Committee working on right now?

We are currently focussing on the challenges pregnant members face before and during pregnancy and whilst on maternity leave.

It can be unfamiliar territory for all involved so in gaining this information we hope to be able to provide adequate support and recommendations to expectant mothers and their employers.

We have also had a number of workwear suppliers attend our committee meetings with samples and some ladies took part in a trial of womenswear in the hope to be able to acquire correctly fitted and appropriate uniforms for women (including maternity wear).

We are also discussing ways in which we can introduce younger generations to the electrical trade. We have a few things up our sleeves for Picnic Day so come and see us at the ETU stand.

Q. What are your thoughts of the future of women in our trade, and in 
our union?
Q What are your thoughts of the future of women in our trade, and in 
our union?

The future is bright!

I have already seen significant positive change towards women in our industry since I started my apprenticeship over ten years ago. This has a lot to do with the continued support from the ETU. 

There is still a long way to go but we are definitely heading in the right direction. The culture is changing, and It isn’t just for the benefit of women, it’s for everyone.

I’m really excited for what the future holds, not just for the women of the ETU, but the ETU as a whole.