'Smart, tough and passionate': Michele O'Neil elected ACTU President

‘Smart, tough and passionate’: Michele O’Neil elected ACTU President

MIchele O'Neil
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has officially picked its new president, with Michele O’Neil voted in to take on the role.

O’Neil was elected to lead the ACTU at is congress on Tuesday.

She replaces Ged Kearney after eight years in the role. Kearney recently became a Labor MP, winning the seat of Batman (now Cooper) in March.

During her first speech as president, O’Neil said she encountered her own #MeToo moment when she was just 14 years old and was sexually harassed by a manager while working as a waitress.

“For a while, I thought this is wrong, but I was young, it was my first job, I didn’t know who to talk to about it,” she later told journalists.

She added that the #MeToo movement gave her the courage and confidence to speak out about the incident, and she acknowledged the thousands of Australian women who have shared their stories in the past 12 months.

During her speech yesterday, O’Neil spoke about the need for the ACTU to reach more workers and to better fight current laws and regulations that restrict workers from taking a united stand.

“We understand that as workers our dignity is so often tied to the job, how we are treated, and how secure it is,” she said.

“Our current rules and laws effectively stop workers taking a united stand, our basic human right to withdraw our labor is highly regulated and restricted.

“When all else fails, we simply need the right to strike.”

O’Neil also spoke out on the need to address pay disparity.

“Women are paid 15.3% less than men in this country,” she said.

“We know that at the same time that we have record economic growth, wages have stagnated.

“Our minimum wage is nothing like a living wage.”

O’Neil has also told AAP that she’s prepared to stand up to the Labor party on policies differences, including on refugees and asylum seekers.

“The ACTU has a strong position about refugees and asylum seekers,” she said. “I’m confident those policies are ones that will be in keeping with what I personally believe.”

O’Neil was previously the national secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union, which merged with the CFMEU in March.

Earlier on in her career, she worked in textiles, before going on to become an organiser with the Textiles Clothing and Footwear Union, taking on numerous roles within the union.

The ACTU president position is often a pipline position into politics, although O’Neil has already told reporters that she has no “desire to be a politician.”

Sally McManus remains secretary of the ACTU. She tweeted that she is very excited to be having O’Neil join her as President.

“She is smart, tough, experienced and passionate. We will make a great team.”

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