Colin Hicks was PSA president from 1983 to 1988; years when unions faced hostile laws, restructuring of the economy and radical changes to the state sector.
He was a senior probation officer when he was elected PSA president in February 1983. A National government, led by prime minister Robert Muldoon, was in power and there was a wage freeze.
The government moved to change state pay-fixing laws. Many workers took industrial action, including the PSA’s Electricity Group. Muldoon introduced legislation to ‘derecognise’ the PSA which meant the union would be dissolved and its assets seized. This dispute was a baptism of fire for Hicks who won much praise for his leadership of the PSA in the face of Muldoon’s threats.
As PSA president, Hicks spoke out against the Labour government’s policies to deregulate the economy and restructure the public service. In 1988 he led more than 50,000 union members in a 24-hour strike against the State Sector Bill.
Hicks was the chair of the Combined State Unions and played an important part in the formation of the Council of Trade Unions in 1987. He became deputy chair of the Public Service Investment Society (PSIS). He was a stalwart of the Trade Union History Project and was closely involved in work on the PSA’s centenary when he died suddenly in October 2010.
"I remember being in my office one morning and I got a call from Bill Birch [the National MP] to say “You‘d better get over here, they’ve introduced the state sector legislation and you might like to see the final rites of the public service.””. We were not privy to the introduction of the Bbill; we had been cut out of that process. This was a new approach from Ggovernment, it heralded a completely new relationship. We were then in a dilemma because we had nowhere to go. The membership within the PSA or CSU could protest all they liked, but once the legislation had gone through, that was that. So we had to withdraw, keeping our integrity and “face”, the best we could.I remember feeling incensed on behalf of the PSA and the CSU and describing the way we’d been treated as “a betrayal”. I was rounded upon for using those strong terms against the Labour Ggovernment. The PSA was banned from any talks with the Ggovernment for six weeks after that. "
THe State and the Union- An Oral History of the PSA from 1884 to 2012 by Mary Ellen O'Connor