It was an absolute privilege to accept, on behalf of our members, the ACTU Campaign of the Year Award from Secretary Sally McManus and new President Michelle O’Neill at the ACTU Congress dinner in late July.
The award recognises the campaign the Union ran during 2017 and 2018 to secure the right to arbitration in an enterprise agreement (EA) covering the bulk of our membership, teachers and support staff in Catholic schools across 11 dioceses.
We did not set out to win an award. We set out to get the best possible conditions for our members locked into an enforceable EA and Work Practices Agreements (WPAs). It was however most gratifying and rewarding to have the work of our entire staff acknowledged by our peers.
Every union campaigns and every campaign is very different, modeled to suit the issues and the membership. For the IEU we found ourselves on constantly shifting ground, required to balance multiple facets simultaneously.
The award also recognises our members actively engaging with the Change the Rules fight when confronted with their own reality of the broken industrial laws which heavily favour employers. Remember that Catholic employers took to the courts to oppose our right to seek protected action ballots, pressing the Union to defend that right and win the case.
At issue was the absolute right to arbitrate disputes in relation to the EA or WPAs before the Fair Work Commission. It was ironic that we were in dispute with employers about how to settle disputes. While this remained a contested issue between us and the employers – negotiations on other aspects of the Union’s claim continued.
Most members are not familiar with how disputes are resolved and the concept of either party referring a dispute to arbitration is difficult to grasp. Explaining this and its importance was the first challenge for Union officers. Countless delegates at ACTU Congress commented that: ’We’ve decided we won’t be having an umpire any more’ cartoon did that job exceptionally well.