A shock announcement was made easier to bear for teachers and support staff at Bishop Druitt College, Coffs Habour, thanks to a strong IEU Chapter.
Early in the year the school council announced 15 redundancies would be made due to falling enrolments and consequent financial implications. IEU Rep Brett Bennett said the staff had no previous warning that the school was in trouble.
“A few teachers accepted the voluntary redundancies but it turned out the council was not taking teacher redundancies. That might still happen at the end of this year.”
Rather the school targeted administrative, counselling and library staff, and announced that grounds keeping, canteen and cleaning services might be outsourced.
The announcement caused anxiety across the board, but staff rallied behind IEU Reps Brett Bennett and Craig Lang, and the members of the school’s IEU committee.
“People were coming up to us constantly with questions and concerns and we had to attend meetings where people were told they didn’t have jobs anymore,” Brett said.
“Thank goodness we had a strong chapter and two reps and a committee. One person would never have been able to handle it all.”
IEU membership at the school has spiked by about 25 people since the announcement.
“They can see what the IEU has done for staff and the benefits of being involved. The support we have received from the Union has been fantastic.”
IEU called for a dispute resolution process before the Fair Work Commission and as a result the school council now has to communicate properly with staff about decisions that will impact on them.
A new chair of the council has been appointed and a liaison person to go between staff and the council will hopefully be put in place
“The new chair has been coming into the school to address staff, which never happened before,” Brett said.
The chair also sought input from staff as to what qualities they would seek in a new principal.
At June’s IEU Council a motion was passed which said in part “the IEU wishes to express its serious concern about the management of the college and its impact on employees”.
“This Chapter calls upon the IEU to seek an urgent meeting with the AIS to make representations on behalf if the members concerning the current restructure and importantly the ongoing management of the college.”
Meetings between the IEU, the college, Fair Work Commission and Association of Independent Schools are ongoing.
Brett said the fear of redundancies remains, but at least sudden shocks like the one received at the beginning of the year can now be avoided.
Collective action at school level, the support of IEU Council and legal processes have resulted in sound outcomes and importantly a positive way forward.