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Farewell to delegate Wayne Pringle

July 9, 2021

Wayne Pringle, described by those who know him as a titan of the AWU and the union movement, has stood down as Tomago Aluminium AWU Site Delegate ahead of his planned retirement.

Wayne became Site Delegate at Tomago in 2008, and was a crew delegate for 15 years before that – a total of 28 years serving Tomago’s AWU members.

Along the way he also served admirably for many years on the Newcastle Branch Executive, followed by the NSW Branch Executive, and chaired the AWU Aluminium Industry Reference Group.

AWU Organiser Cameron Wright says Wayne personally signed up more than 600 new members as Site Delegate. He was also instrumental in establishing and promoting both the Tomago Workplace Giving Fund and the Tomago Hardship Scheme.

“Wayne has also assisted members in so many other ways,” Cameron says. “He’s represented countless members in disciplinary matters. He’s also helped to negotiate the favourable pay and conditions everyone on site now enjoys.”

Trained as a fire-sprinkler fitter, Wayne left Newcastle in his 20s and spent about 10 years working in Darwin, Canberra and Sydney, before coming back home to work at Tomago.

“The Site Delegate role takes up the vast majority of my time at Tomago but my official title is Fire Protection Officer as I am responsible for the fulfilling the legislative requirements of the fire protection inspections on site,” Wayne says.

“We have around 600 AWU members at Tomago, plus about 140 AMWU and ETU members.

“When I became Site Delegate, we had around 600 members. We’ve had redundancies and lost members along the way, but we still have 600 members. That’s the thing I am most proud of; that the AWU is still very strong at Tomago”.

Wayne says being a delegate has its hard moments, with some of the worst being called on to help people whose jobs are on the line.

But he says the process only reinforces the need for a strong union such as the AWU.

“Everything good we have in the workplace is there because we have been a strong unionised workforce,” he says.

“We have some great clauses in our Enterprise Agreement that we had to propose, justify, consult, argue over, tweak and finally improve on.

“Sometimes this takes years of trying to gain something and people don’t see the work that goes into the end result.”

While championing members’ pay and conditions, Wayne has also worked hard on behalf of their charity fundraising efforts.

In the 1980’s, Tomago’s three unions set up the first out-of-pay donations for local charities, and in the late 2000’s, the AWU formed a separate partnership with Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Through trying to promote the schemes, Wayne eventually realised that having two separate funds was confusing and costing donations, so he campaigned to merge them into one, the Tomago Workplace Giving Fund.

Overall, the fund has donated about $2 million dollars to 45 local charities and recently won a national first prize award for best refresh of a donation scheme from Workplace Giving Australia.

“We increased the number of contributors by 15%, or about 100 people,” Wayne says. “We raised about $40,000 in the first year. Now that it’s one scheme, about 70% of Tomago employees are in it and it’s going to keep growing.”

This year alone, members donated $75,000 to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter appeal, and $15,600 to this year’s four other worker-nominated charities: Ronald McDonald House, the Hunter Medical Research Institute, Survivors R Us, and the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary.

Wayne’s other big achievement is the Tomago Hardship Scheme, set up to provide workers with financial assistance in their time of dire need.

At its peak, 870 workers agreed to a payroll deduction of $10 to donate a total of $8700 to their colleagues when they needed it most.

Says Cameron Wright: “This scheme is unionism at its best. Those that can, giving to those in need.”

“Wayne, we can’t thank you enough for all that you have done for the AWU and its members. You will be truly missed, and leave massive shoes to fill.”

Wayne is now in the process of passing the baton to a new Senior Site Delegate, having stood down in July ahead of his well-earned planned retirement.

“I’m just going for a drive then,” he says. “I’ll head up north and head west. I’ve got friends all over the country, so I’ll take my time and sit by nice rivers and climb up some mountains on the way. Take the time to relax and let it all sink in. I might even write a book.”

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