Recently IEUA NSW/ACT Branch undertook a survey of its support staff working in Catholic systemic schools and received over 700 responses – an impressive result showing support staff are engaged with their Union.
A key finding is that a staggering 92% of respondents indicated that they start work before their scheduled time, and 90% stay back. Additionally, 37% never claim overtime and 47% have been directed to take time in lieu instead of an overtime payment.
The breadth of experiences of our support staff members in schools also generated a wide range of issues in the workplace, including:
• lack of awareness of particular entitlements, such as the overnight allowance
• favouritism or nepotism in the selection of candidates
• inequity in allocations of work
• lack of transparency in appointments
• completion of PD in non work hours
• long-term rolling temporary appointments
• highly skilled tasks being under classified, and
• WHS concerns with fatigue and mental health.
One issue that is causing deep concern is the constant stress of insecure work, keenly felt by teachers’ aides. Also of concern was the time some schools are taking to communicate role allocations and availabilities year by year, with decisions communicated in late December, and only via email.
Another frustration was that support staff are often not aware of their entitlements as waged workers, which is not being communicated by school leadership teams.
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Vice President Support Staff Carolyn Collins said many school support staff are reluctant to request overtime payment because of the ‘fear factor’ that they may miss out on future employment or that they are seen as incompetent in the work they are assigned.
“If we don’t speak up, we are not doing justice to our role and employers will go on thinking our workloads are adequate and will never perceive that we are overloaded,” Collins said.
“In the past, paid overtime was one of those things that was ‘secret person’s business’. Even if you asked, nobody knew if support staff were paid overtime or where to go to put in an application.
“On a personal level, when I asked about being paid overtime many years ago for a three day overnight excursion, I was told ‘we don’t do that’!
“This went on for many years and finally I asked again to be paid for an upcoming excursion, and I was told ‘no’ and that I would no longer be required for the excursion.
“They quickly went to another more willing member of the support staff. This led to me never being included in excursions for many, many years. Excursions can be the cream in our profession, as we get to know the students and teachers on a whole different level and just changing the working environment for a day can be refreshing.
“I’m not diminishing the stresses and workload of excursions in any way.
“Due to the work of the IEU, school support staff have been recognised as a significant and integral part of school communities.
“However, this is one area that has not evolved as we would like. Time in lieu appears to be the preferred option in schools nowadays.
“However, this may not always be preferred by school support staff as often there can be restrictions in the time frame in which time in lieu is granted. This needs to be done in consultation.
“Often school support staff are reluctant to take time in lieu as it impacts too much on assigned classes and can be challenged by teachers who are not aware of the provisions within our award.
“School support staff are not paid a huge wage and I am sure most, if not all, would prefer to be paid for the work they do, especially overtime.
“Any paid overtime or time in lieu must be directed by your principal or authorised supervisor.
“Please speak up, as our principals may not be aware of the extra workload and are more than willing to see justice done. You may get a surprise of a few extra dollars in your pay.”