Helen Kelly to be remembered at Wellington service

(Helen Kelly / Facebook)
(Helen Kelly / Facebook)

A civic service is being planned in Wellington for former trade union leader Helen Kelly who has died from cancer aged 52.

The first woman to lead the Council of Trade Unions, Ms Kelly held the post as president for eight years before stepping down a year ago after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

She campaigned for tougher safety regulations in the wake of the Pike River Mine disaster and worked to have the directors and senior management held to account over the deaths of 29 men in the explosion.

She oversaw the union bringing private prosecutions over the deaths of forestry workers after the Labour Department had failed to lay charges.

Ms Kelly also advocated for pay equality and employment equity. She was involved in a major stoush with the Government and filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson on rights for those working on The Hobbit movies in New Zealand.

After being diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2015 she campaigned for access to medicinal cannabis.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said he was working with Ms Kelly's family to hold a civic service to acknowledge and celebrate her achievements.

"Helen Kelly was an outstanding woman. She always fought on behalf of people who needed a voice, was hugely principled, always put other people's interests ahead of her own and never compromised on her convictions," he said.

Ms Kelly was well respected by business leaders and those on both sides of the political divide and many have paid tribute to her contribution to workers' rights.

Labour leader Andrew Little said she was a passionate advocate for working Kiwis.

"Her tireless campaigning and advocacy made a real difference and her commitment to her cause saw her championing the need for safer working conditions for those in the forestry industry, shining a light on an industry that has for too long neglected the people who work in it.

"To the very end of her life, she was an example of extraordinary dedication and tenacity.

"Helen spent her life standing up to powerful people and fighting for justice. Her passing is an enormous loss to New Zealand," he said.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said Ms Kelly was "a passionate advocate for the rights of New Zealand workers".

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said she made a significant contribution to public life and to the interests of working people in New Zealand.