Tribute to Helen Kelly

A picture of Helen Kelly

Helen Kelly died this morning, at her home in Wellington. She was 52 years old. She had cancer and had been sick for some time. She will be remembered partly for her work as President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) from 2007 to 2015. She worked so hard for the rights of workers, especially those in low paid jobs. She wanted everyone to earn enough to have a good life and to be treated well at work. She cared also about the safety of workers, especially those working in forestry and coal mines. After the death of workers killed while cutting down trees in the forest, she visited the families and called for safer practices for forestry workers. She visited and supported the families of the men killed in the Pike River mine accident. These families became close friends and supported her also during the last few weeks of her life.

Her father had been the President of the Wellington Trades Union and her mother was also a strong supporter of workers’ rights so it is not surprising that Helen learnt from an early age to care about people being treated fairly. She was the first woman President of the CTU.

She trained as a teacher but did not teach for long; instead she became the union representative for kindergarten teachers then for primary teachers before representing workers in other unions. She was very intelligent, had a sense of humour and strong compassion for people who lost their jobs, who were poorly paid or poorly treated in their work and for those families who lost loved ones in workplace accidents.

She will also be remembered for campaigning for medical marijuana. She said publicly that she used it to help her sleep and to help against nausea. Medical marijuana is illegal in New Zealand. She said she got her marijuana from Australia. She felt that doctors in New Zealand should be able to prescribe marijuana for those patients who needed it.

The mayor of Wellington said today there will be a public service for Helen next week.

To hear about the Pike River mine accident listen to these: 29 miners trapped; 3rd explosion, and Despair in Greymouth


• tribute (n) – praise for someone you admire
• compassion (n) – concern for someone who is suffering
• campaign (v, n) – public action for a purpose
• nausea (n) – sick feeling in the stomach, wanting to vomit
• prescribe (v) – doctors order medicine