Activists ready to fix broken system

One of the most important events on the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch’s annual agenda took place during the recent break.

The Activists Conference provides a forum for hardworking IEU reps to increase their confidence and skills and go back to their workplaces with new found enthusiasm.

“You’ll be well equipped after listening, networking and sharing stories, about how to operate as a good rep. This is a valuable time,” IEUA NSW/ACT Branch President Christine Wilkinson said in her welcoming address.

During the three day conference delegates heard from Unions NSW Assistant Secretary Emma Maiden, ACTU representative Emma Kingdon, South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris and a number of IEU officers, who shared their road to activism, and explained the finer points of industrial law, the history and structure of unionism and NESA.

Keep talking

Emma Maiden encouraged everybody to “keep talking abut unions, at work, in the street, at home” and join the fight to change the rules.

Emma Kingdon outlined the next steps in the ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign. She said the organisation wanted to capture public opinion, secure ALP and minor party support, get the ALP to win the election and the senate and use the new system to grow workers’ rights through a bigger, stronger union movement.

The casualisation of the workforce is one of the issues being tackled by the ACTU, and this struck a chord with most of the 13 activists, who are aware of teachers being employed on a temporary or contract basis.

Emma said Australia’s current industrial laws could best be compared to Saudi Arabia’s, with a system that “absolutely backs the employers”.

Critical change

Brett Bennett from Bishop Druitt College Coffs Harbour said the need to change the rules was “critical”.

Traumatic times at his school last year when 15 people were made redundant had firmed his resolve to becomean activist.

“On the one hand it was energising as it got people to join the Union and stand up to the employer, but on the other hand it was deflating to see what limited avenues we had as employees to stop what was happening,” Brett said.

“That’s why we need to change the rule so there is an independent umpire. Otherwise workers have little recourse.

“I think workers have been sleepwalking a bit and not aware to what extent their rights have been eroded.

“It takes a real life experience like we had at our school to wake people up.”

Serious entertaining

Adam Scicluna from Clancy Catholic College West Hoxton is also looking to change the rules after witnessing unfairness not just in teaching but in his former role as an entertainer.

Now teaching drama, music, religion and history, Adam worked as a full time professional entertainer for 12 years, in clubs, doing corporate gigs, working on 174 different cruises and appearing in musical theatre.

Adam said the entertainment industry is “highly unregulated” and he had witnessed unscrupulous behaviour from employers and employees forced to compete in a tough market.

“No matter where I’m working I want to see people treated how they deserve. I’m against any injustice.”

Adam said he was disturbed to see young teachers, unaware of the previous struggles of the union movement, compromise their rights because they feel under pressure to keep their jobs.

“I was well mentored by the IEU rep when I started teaching and I want to be able to share what I’ve learnt at this conference with other young teachers.”

Fighting on

Young teacher Amy Mead, relatively new to the IEU, said the “benefits we enjoy now didn’t just happen overnight”.

The St Aloysius Primary School Chisholm teacher said paid parental leave, long service leave, RFF and “even having someone employed to clean your classroom” can often be taken for granted.

“These were the result of the work of activists over time. With work intensification, the fight we’ve had in the last year, it’s so important to be engaged with your Union and be an activist so we and staff in the future can continue to benefit. These can’t be taken for granted and need to be fought t for.”

Collective voice

Rhonda Blayney from Danebank has realised over time that the collective voice is more powerful than the individual.

Rhonda has made a rapid journey to activism, becoming the rep at Danebank in Hurstville, quite recently.

Rhonda is concerned about young graduates struggling to negotiate the workplace. She has seen her own son come out of university and end up in an unpaid ‘internship’ that dragged on without the prospect of permanent work.

“I firmly believe there should be regulation to prevent unpaid internships. There should be a framework that allows for two weeks work experience, and then the person must be paid.”

One of two activists attending from the ACT, Anne Plowman has been a teacher librarian and humanities teacher for 39 years.

Anne has runs on the board having been involved with women’s causes and IEU Council, representing the Metropolitan Branch before she moved to St Clare’s College Canberra.

“I thought it was time to get more involved and encourage others to see the advantage of being a union member.

“The presentation by Emma Kingdon from the ACTU was great food for thought and something I would like to be more involved with.”

Our members get behind the Change the Rules campaign.