Former National Secretary Sharn Riggs reflects on her time working with TEU national women’s officer, Suzanne McNabb, and the impact she has made in advancing the interests of working women within TEU, the tertiary education sector, and internationally.

I’ve known Suzanne for many years, and through a number of forums, in her work within the union movement, her work for women’s rights and feminism, and as a colleague and friend. Over this time, the impact Suzanne has made within the union movement, and for the advancement of women’s issues, is one that will be difficult to replace. However, through her tireless work in creating and maintaining a platform for women’s voices, we, as a union, and we as working women, are stronger as a result.

My working relationship with Suzanne began before the formation of TEU, when she came and worked as a temporary organiser for at the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE). During this time, and in the years since, I have grown to know Suzanne as an immensely experienced and effective organiser. Suzanne was the women’s officer for the Association of University Staff (AUS), and as ASTE and AUS merged, and TEU took shape, we began working together in the newly created union.

Suzanne is known within our union as a reliable and trustworthy organiser, who gives excellent guidance in times of stress. She is someone who is able to look at a situation and work out what the best options are, and someone who is able to take that excellent judgement and feel for a situation and use it to find the best solutions for those involved.

Through her work for the TEU national women’s committee, and with the women’s vice presidents over the years, Suzanne has always ensured that the union’s agenda around women’s issues was advanced. Her tireless efforts in this space has meant we have a strong platform whereby women’s voices and the issues that are of concern for women – many of which have remained over the years– continue to be heard, and that women continue to be represented at all levels.

Suzanne’s contribution to the women’s movement and to unionism has rightly been acknowledged both nationally and internationally. She has been co-convenor of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) Women’s Council; organised and chaired several Biennial Women’s Conferences; represented the CTU on NACEW (National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women) for seven years; has been Convenor of the Pay Equity Coalition, and completed three terms as a Board member of UN Women NCANZ.

While we continue to make in-roads in the advancement of women’s issues, as a union and across society, we also know that the reality is one of persistent inequities, exemplified by the gender pay gap which Suzanne has played an integral role in gaining awareness of and in striving to address.

We know that there are still some significant structural issues within tertiary education and across society that need to be rectified, and Suzanne has kept that mission at the forefront of her thinking, in her work, and on the union agenda. Suzanne has continued to advance that work and to ensure it is an integral part of the work that organisers do.

Suzanne’s list of professional achievements goes some way in showing how incredibly hard she has worked over her career, and in showing the depth of her contribution to her life’s work. Her knowledge, dedication, and unwavering commitment to improving the lives of working people, particularly that of women, has meant the issues she has championed, and all she has achieved is embedded in the work we do, and the work we will continue as a union.