Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Paul Howes has confirmed he will step down from his role in July, but not to run for parliament.
Mr Howes, who has been in the union role for seven years, said he would “cherish his membership ticket” forever.
“I know my decision may come as a surprise,” he said in a statement.
“But I was elected to this role seven years ago, at 26 years of age. I left school at 14, and commenced full-time work in the union movement at 17.”
Mr Howes said he wasn’t leaving the job in order to pursue a seat in parliament.
“For some time now I have been contemplating the next steps in my life. And as such I recognise the right thing to do is to step down,” he said.
He said the AWU was in better shape than ever, with a growing membership and united leadership team.
Mr Howes is expected to be replaced by assistant national secretary Scott McDine.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten hoped Mr Howes would continue his “valuable contribution to workers’ rights” in the years to come.
“Paul’s passion for workers’ rights and fighting for safe workplaces is well known – he is respected by industry, unions and government alike,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Howes replaced Mr Shorten as national secretary of the AWU.
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said Mr Howes had shown an “unwavering belief in a modern, vibrant, campaigning union movement”.
Mr Oliver said the AWU boss had rebuilt bridges with other unions.
“Paul has been a reforming national secretary, putting old wars in the past and driving new strategic alliances in manufacturing with the AMWU, in mining with the CFMEU and offshore with the MUA.”
Federal minister Christopher Pyne has singled out Paul Howes for his policy ideas, saying he would be welcome in the nation’s parliament.
But there’s still speculation he may eventually run as a Labor candidate for federal parliament.
“He certainly has a lot more ideas about the future of Australia and what needs to be done about policy than the current crop of people who represent the Labor Party in Canberra,” Mr Pyne told reporters.
“He would be very welcome here, but that is a matter for the Labor Party.
“At least he recognises that you can’t simply hold on to policies that failed in the past and ignore the election result as Bill Shorten and his team do.”
Labor MP Amanda Rishworth said Mr Howes had made a great contribution to the labour movement.
“If he does choose a new career path, I wish him all the best. Whatever Paul goes into he will make a significant contribution,” she said.
Liberal MP Steve Ciobo said Mr Howes clearly had huge ambitions for federal Labor.
“I get the impression that Paul Howes is off trekking for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness hoping to get some enlightenment because he has lost confidence in the leadership of the Labor Party, and frankly who could blame him,” he told Sky.
Labor MP Rob Mitchell said Australia needed people like Paul Howes – young and intelligent.
“Whatever he goes and does, if he decided to leave the AWU, I am sure he will be extremely good at,” he told reporters.