IEU wins top national award for campaign

The IEUA NSW/ ACT Branch has been awarded the 2018 ACTU Congress Campaign of the Year Award for its battle for fairness in Catholic schools, Journalist Sue Osborne writes.

Teachers and support staff in Catholic schools showed great determination, keeping up an 18 month resistance to Catholic employers across NSW and the ACT who were determined to take away their right to arbitration by the Fair Work Commission.

“This award is a tribute to the bravery and strength of character of our membership and staff, who were determined to fix broken industrial rules for the benefit of current and future employees” John Quessy, Secretary IEUA NSW/ACT Branch said.

The campaign was complex, involving 11 different dioceses, postal ballots and other roadblocks thrown up by the employer, highlighting weaknesses in the Fair Work Act.

In recommending the IEU for the award, Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said: “the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch showed outstanding imagination and tenacity during its campaign, which also made a significant contribution to the Change the Rules campaign. The IEU grew the resolve of existing members while recruiting thousands of new members during their campaign”.

The Union employed novel techniques such as live video streaming and social media to great effect, as well as traditional media and on the ground footwork by its officers and reps.

Despite already winning a modest pay rise part way through the campaign, teachers and support staff participated enthusiastically in two stop work actions; rallies small and large were held in every corner of the state and territory.

When the Catholic employers tried to push through a non union agreement 14 months into the campaign and just prior to the Christmas break, IEU members voted it down. Teachers and support staff rejected the employer enterprise agreement (EA) – voting a resounding 88% ‘no’ even with employer inducements of backpay before Christmas.

When the Union had successfully negotiated significant wins for all teachers and support staff, the Union endorsed EA was put to the vote, resulting in a 98.4% vote by members in favour of the finalised enterprise agreement.

This EA enshrined the right to arbitration and provided pay rises and improved conditions for all.

The Work Practices Agreements put in places meant teachers and support staff were able to do what they wanted which is spend more time with their students. In most dioceses, meeting times are capped to 10 hours per term and there is a commitment to limit unnecessary data processing and programing that is not directly related to teaching. Staff are not required to respond to emails outside of normal school hours.

The new work practices agreements also allow for more mentoring and release from face to face teaching for new teachers to address the exodus from the profession in the early years.

There was a significant membership spike (3427 more members) off the back of the campaign, which is in fact ongoing. The profile of the Union in schools was overwhelmingly increased and the importance of Union membership was highlighted to all with member density increases in Catholic systemic schools as well as throughout non government education in NSW and ACT.

“This campaign showed that worker power can win through and proved that if unions can muster the strength of their membership, they can bring about effective change and ensure better fairness and justice for all workers, now and in the future,” Quessy said.

In presenting the award, ACTU judges noted the campaign was flexible and responsive to the needs of members and engaged them at all levels.

The award was presented before an audience of 1200 by newly elected ACTU President Michelle O’Neill and Secretary Sally McManus at the Brisbane Convention Centre on 17 July.