Sue Piper was elected the first woman president of the PSA in 1988. In a rare contested election, she won 56,027 votes to 36,790 for PSA vice-president Colin Feslier. A long-time union activist, she was one of the PSA’s executive officers (and general treasurer) from 1982 to 1987.
Piper was president from 1988 to 1992. This was a time of great change for the PSA. The corporatisation of state agencies and privatisation led to job losses for many workers. The end of centralised pay negotiations and the Employment Contracts Act threatened wages and conditions. Piper argued that unions had to take a progressive attitude to change. In 1988 the PSA launched a “Yes to Public Services” campaign which included a major conference on privatisation in 1989. After the Employment Contracts Bill was introduced in 1990, there was a debate within the union movement about whether all workers or only union members should have the protection of employment laws. Piper was instrumental in persuading the PSA to support employment rights for all workers; a position that was adopted by the NZ Council of Trade Unions.
Piper was a Wellington city councillor for nine years and was chair of the Local Government Commission for six years. She has been active in sports administration and is chair of Sport Wellington.
I was very much a woman of the ‘70s. I was the youngest on the organising committee of the first United Women’s Convention in 1975 at the Winter Show Building [now Te Whaea/ Toi Whakaari] with women like Ros Noonan, Deidre Milne and Margaret Shields, who went on to make great contributions. So a lot of my inspiration came from them.
I’ve spent my life being either the first or the youngest or the only whatever. In the early ‘80s I was elected to the Executive as the only woman. I represented Bay of Plenty.
In ‘88 Colin Hicks stood down and I fought off Colin Feslier for the Presidency. I was the first female President. This was a big deal for others rather than myself. The big deal for me was being the president. I was still doing half-time work as desk officer for the Recreation and Sport portfolio at the Department of Internal Affairs.
I inherited the job at a supremely difficult time when the PSA was having to respond to unprecedented change –- bargaining changes, State Sector Act, iwi - Maori involvement in the union.
In 1990 I was re-elected President with an all- women executive. This reflected the increasing involvement of women, and also recognition by the leadership that we were important.
The State and the Union - an Oral History of the PSA from 1984 to 2012 by Mary Ellen O' Connor