Saturday, 22nd July, 2017
The Broken Hill Town Employees’ Union is about to turn 100 years old.
In its heyday the union represented every type of town worker, from tailors and saddlers to radio announcers and newspaper delivery boys. There was even a section for people who worked in fish and chip shops.
But it was also the first union in Australia, if not the world, to actively campaign for equal pay for women and to have child labour abolished.
The union officially came into being on July 25, 1917 and to mark the centenary, on Tuesday the union will hold a “Badge Show Day” and a ceremonial mass meeting of members at 4.30pm at the Trades Hall.
The Town Employees’ Union was essentially established by the local branch of the Hotel, Club and Restaurant Employees Union (HC&REU).
The HC&REU, having helped other smaller organisations to resolve their workplace problems, considered a report from its Committee to form a new “town” union which would be able to provide membership to the employees of other town industries.
The Committee was instructed to draft the constitution and rules of the new union, the Town Employees Union (TEU).
On Wednesday, May 9, 1917 at a special meeting of the HC&REU the Committee’s report was adopted and, after long discussion, it was resolved that the HC&REU should become a section of the TEU.
The following officers were elected pro tem: - President - Mr J.H. McCubbin; Vice President - Mr J. Partington; Secretary - Mr T. Gamboni; Trustees - Messrs C. Gerner, A.E. Cartright and J.G. Kean; Committee - Mrs J Aulton and Mrs M.M. Jay.
The Committee was instructed to begin the process of registering the TEU with the Registrar of Friendly Societies and Trades Unions.
The new union was launched and held its inaugural meeting on July 12, 1917. The meeting heard that, within a short time, 152 new members had joined and, after investigation, many breaches of awards had been discovered.
The TEU Executive began proceedings to rectify the breaches which, by late July 1917, were resolved to the workers’ satisfaction.
On July 25, 1917 the Town Employees Union was officially registered under the Trades Union Act 1881, Registration number 518.
In August 1917, Mr Gamboni was invited to address a mass meeting of Broken Hill Hospital employees, having previously helped the hospital’s domestic staff with their issues.
Much to the dismay and the personal objections of the Hospital’s Chairman, employees voted unanimously to cease membership of the Hospital and Asylum Employees Union and, instead, join and become a section of the new Town Employees Union.
As the union grew, members were organised into their industry sections and by 1950 the Town Employees Union had 25 sections.
These were: Hotel, Club, Boarding House and Restaurant Employees, Hospital Employees, Hairdressers, Liquor Trades, Tailors and Tailoresses, Motor and Cycle Employees and Drivers, Road Relief Workers, Labourers, Dairy Workers, Saddlers, Miscellaneous Workers, Fish Shop Employees, Penrose Park Employees, Radio Announcers, Fibrous Plasterers, Bus Drivers, Annexe Employees, Barrier Miner Delivery Boys, Horse Drivers and Wholesale Employees, School and Bank Cleaners, Gas Works Employees, Postal Employees, and Zinc Mine Canteen Employees.
In 1949 the TEU even formed a branch in Menindee to cater for workers on the Menindee Lakes Scheme.
But as each new section was added, an agreement would have to be drawn up. When it was approved by the members it would then be put to the employers and negotiated until it was satisfactory to all parties. It can be seen from this that the Executive was kept very busy because each agreement usually came up for renewal every three years.
The TEU was unique in its industrial coverage and remains so today, 100 years on.
It is believed to be the first union to campaign for “equal pay for sexes” and the abolition of “child labour” through the removal of most “junior” rates of pay from its locally-negotiated agreements.
Today, the union is known as The Broken Hill Town Employees’ Union and is registered under the NSW Industrial Relations Act 1996.
It operates only within the County of Yancowinna and, although some sections, as well as local industries, have come and gone since its formation 100 years ago, its unique industrial coverage remains largely unchanged.
On September 10 the BHTEU will hold a special centenary “reunion” of all members, past and present (and their families) at the South Golf Club. Tickets for the event are now on sale at the union office.