In the past year about 52 enterprise agreements have been made by the Union representing an overwhelming one per week. While the bulk of these are for individual early childhood services, others cover multiple services such as the Kindergarten Union (KU), where we have achieved access to paid domestic violence leave, and Big Fat Smile (BFS) where teachers will have access to 10 hours per year of paid leave to attend NESA registered PD. These agreements contain salaries approaching parity with those in schools.
Union's year in review
by John Quessy
At Green Valley Islamic School, we achieved a 57% pay increase for support staff. The Galilee School in the ACT has proved to be a recalcitrant employer refusing to enter into good faith bargaining with the Union. A majority support determination was sought, won and argued before the Fair Work Commission and we are currently awaiting orders on the school to commence bargaining.
The big industrial news of the year however is our early childhood Equal Remuneration Order/Work Value case. A decision is due between December 2019 and April 2020.
Support staff gains
The year has witnessed a new class of membership - trainees – to cater for the surge of employers offering post school traineeships in a variety of fields. This group of young workers are among the lowliest paid and vulnerable, hence in need of Union support and protection. We created a subcategory of our support staff membership at $2 per week to encourage membership and give them a positive first taste of the work of unions.
Our Support Staff Conference My Values, My Work held a few weeks ago was again an outstanding event providing a positive engagement of members from across NSW and the ACT. Support staff have continued to access Union PD in significant numbers especially Voice Care but several engaged in the Inclusivity suite of offerings as well.
The education debate has this year been characterised by the Curriculum Review in NSW and what can be best described as a national dispute regarding NAPLAN as a test ‘fit for purpose’.
Neither are resolved but the childish nature of this argument was exemplified in mid-October when Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan accused the states and territories of shirking responsibility for disappointing NAPLAN results and instead blaming the test for a lack of student improvement.
Had we, the teacher unions, the ear of government, we could point out that if the curriculum was less crowded, if teachers were released from the compliance overlays created by governments, bureaucrats and other administrators, if the audit mentality were relaxed and teachers were trusted to do their jobs, we might just make headway with literacy and numeracy.
For the 13th year since the introduction of the Standards 3 Band model EA, our staff assisted members to achieve Experienced Teacher status. This year 65 members were aided through workshops, advice and one on one assistance. Despite the long history of the 3 Band model, the IEU is continually frustrated that some schools provide no help or support for their staff.
The Union has continued to work with NESA on policy and process documents with a view to making these as fair for our members as possible. NESA have a tendency to be Department of Education centered and make assumptions about school based processes which are fair, transparent and consistently applied. They are not familiar with the real world of the Catholic and independent sector and many are ignorant of early childhood.
As previously indicated, part of our PD program has been designed to deliver advice and assistance on accreditation matters to a mass audience of newly accredited and maintaining accreditation members, those working towards accreditation at Proficient teacher and those charged with the responsibility of supervising provisional teachers. The last of these is a new venture for the Union, is intense and has been well received. Also new this year is a series of sessions each dealing with an individual Standard and its descriptors.
Building on the work of Professor Howard Stevenson from the University of Nottingham who has twice provided presentations to our national forums, our small unit has sought creative ways to engage on a professional level with particularly teacher members. This has included a website platform (The IEU Zone) to host groups, discussions and inhouse on-demand PD, experimenting with public debates with an education theme and a Book Club. Early days yet but each shows real promise at connecting with members otherwise not engaged with the Union.
For the second consecutive year, the IEU will have uploaded more than 7000 hours of registered PD to NESA for the benefit of members. Include what we provide through our TLN partnership and this exceeds 10,000 hours.
We strive to educate our Chapter Representatives through our Reps training. We reached almost 230 this year and all vowed to implement some of what they learned. We held a course exclusively for early childhood members which, while small in numbers, gives us something to build on in coming years.
Our sixth Activists Conference held over Easter attracted 16 activists and potential activists, further cementing itself into our calendar of permanent and worthy events.
An extensive range of successful forums were held around the Branch. The BOLD initiative grew further from its origins in 2017 culminating in a second conference at Manly in August.
As a Union representing more than 70% women, we have a responsibility to be at the vanguard of promoting issues like gender equity, equal pay, paid domestic violence leave, opposition to sexual (and other) harassment and secure work.
Child protection support
A significant role for the Union is in assisting members to respond to Child Protection allegations which often lack enough specific detail to allow a meaningful reply. Where investigations are delayed or substandard, it adds to the stress and inconvenience of members often adding financial pressure through loss of income.
A number of employers have built for themselves a reputation for denying access or timely access to investigation files hiding behind privacy or public interest defenses but effectively refusing natural justice to our members. The capacity for members to defend themselves against allegations is entirely reliant on access to the purported evidence.
For almost 40 years, a key part of the Union’s communication strategy has been our flagship Newsmonth. Coupled with the older journal Independent Education, these publications have broadcast our industrial and professional views far and wide. Although hard copy periodicals continue to play a valuable role, the immediacy of electronic communications through web, email and social media is quickly taking over as the way members stay informed.
Responsive to member demands, our communications team has been experimenting with a range of delivery options with the first and last Newsmonth editions each year delivered only by electronic means. An increasing number of members have elected to suppress hard copy and opt only for online delivery. The current paper editions will be dispatched in a more environmentally friendly biodegradable wrap.
We have established and fostered partnerships with a range of organisations with whom we have close synergy over many years. NGS, Teachers Mutual Bank, Teachers Health Fund and Union Shopper are but a few. We are actively aligned with the Workers Health Centre and Welfare Rights. This year we added the Member Advantage card to our suite of offerings to provide a digital membership card and additional discount opportunities for members.
As always, the most exciting member benefit is teacher exchange and this year, just shy of our 35th year of teacher exchange,18 members had that chance. Council frequently gets to meet and hear from some of those from foreign shores who exchange to Australia. Postcards from abroad feature in Newsmonth and many of us lament that we don’t have the opportunity or courage to take up that opportunity.
Recruitment and retention
The lifeblood of any member based organisation are its rank and file. It is imperative that we nurture and retain our existing members and recruit to our numbers those new to the profession and to our sector. We experience significant employment churn and if we are to legitimately be the voice of non government education, we must not only maintain our existing membership but grow our density.
Recruitment, retention and organising are part of our core business and we must never be afraid of being innovative, of trying new things to build our membership and our capacity.
Since 2015 over 16,300 new members have joined, 2700 this year. That is more than half our membership. A little more than that have retired or resigned.
What we can see from these numbers is that there is nothing wrong with our recruitment strategy. We are certainly doing something right but almost 50% of our members are over 50 and only a small percentage under 30.
To all our members who volunteer to serve as Chapter Representatives or on Chapter Committees, on our internal committees or who represent us on other bodies, I offer sincere thanks and appreciation. I also acknowledge the contribution of our Executive and Council and to IEU staff.
Finally, to those I work most closely with I pay tribute. I’ll retire as Secretary in a few days as will Deputy Secretary Gloria Taylor. I want to put on record my admiration and appreciation for all she has done for me in the more than three decades we have worked together in various roles.
Gloria has dealt with the good, the bad and the ugly in her career with the Union and with me. She has been positive and cheerful when really, she had no reason to be and her strength of character in the face of adversity is beyond remarkable. Gloria has been a superb Deputy Secretary.