Kelly – who was the first female president of the Council of Trade Unions – was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in February 2015. Despite her health, the union stalwart continued to campaign for worker rights, the use of medical marijuana, and the right to die with dignity.
"Today New Zealand mourns the loss of union leader Helen Kelly. She was a fighter who died after a battle with cancer," CTU president Richard Wagstaff said.
"Helen died too young, and will always be remembered in our hearts, minds and on the frontlines of the fight for everyday working people,” he continued.
Prime Minister John Key also expressed his condolences to Kelly’s family.
“Saddened to hear about the passing of Helen Kelly, a strong advocate for workers’ rights,” he wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts are with her family and friends.”
Some of Kelly’s most well-known campaigns include fighting for safer conditions in the forestry and mining sectors following the deaths at Pike River Mine and a number of fatal logging accidents.
“We’re a better country for her achievements,” stressed Wagstaff.
Kelly died in Wellington aged 52 – she leaves behind a son, Dylan, and husband Steve Hurring.
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Tributes are being paid to one of New Zealand’s most vocal employee advocates after unionist Helen Kelly passed away early this morning.