Members in Catholic schools across 11 dioceses have overwhelmingly endorsed a Union supported Enterprise Agreement (EA) at a ballot held in May.
A staggering 98.47% voted ‘yes’ to the proposed EA which was the product of almost 18 months of struggle and dispute involving stop work action on two occasions.
When the employers put their sub standard proposal to a vote in December last year it managed to attract less than 12% support, however this proposal, endorsed by the IEU because it addressed the demands of members gained almost universal approval.
Our members are rightly proud of this result and of the resolve they displayed to achieve it. The strength of the collective, in voice and action, is why we have today an EA which delivers increases in pay (2017, 2018 and 2019), a range of improved conditions and greater certainty with managing work through superior work practice arrangements.
Most importantly these things are enforceable by the guaranteed right to arbitrate any intractable dispute through the Fair Work Commission.
Members will not forget that Catholic employers argued to remove the fundamental right to appeal disputes to an independent umpire. Their collective position was that access to the Fair Work Commission for adjudication would only exist with their permission. This privilege was entirely within their gift.
Members will not forget also that the employers took to the courts to argue that you, as workers employed by them, had no right to take protected industrial action in protest at their position and their behaviour. Was this the position of all 11 dioceses? None broke ranks, none spoke out publicly or privately in opposition. There were no reservations expressed nor any hesitations or doubts. Not then, not now.
There are several likely reasons why employers took the stance they did. Perhaps their preference was to maintain power and control, to weaken employees’ scope for objection or challenge.
Perhaps they thought that no one would notice or care or that arbitration was such a detached concept that the Union would not be able to organise members to understand its importance and the consequence of its removal.
Whatever it was, there is an essential lesson for our members from 2017. There is never room for complacency, never the option to assume that a condition or benefit won is safe. There will always be those who try to undo what has been done and to remove what has been won.
Arbitration was once a universal right of workers in Australia. That we as a Union and you as members had to engage in a bitter struggle to maintain it, shows how the rules and the laws in this country are broken and need to change.