Tackling problems in the bush

A new director could come in and change the rules and we would have nothing to go on because there are no written rules.

The diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes is unique in many ways. It is very large but remote, sparsely populated and badly affected by drought. Teachers and support staff who work in this diocese often travel many kilometres to access PD for example. It consists of 18 primary schools with no high school. The only Catholic high school in the area, Red Bend College Forbes, is administered independently by the Marist Brothers.

Its remoteness throws up challenges to union organisation. St Laurence Primary School Forbes Rep Peter Nunn is the only Wilcannia-Forbes delegate serving on IEU Council.

The biggest problem facing its members currently is the lack of a Work Practices Agreement (WPA). All the other 10 dioceses in NSW and the ACT have the protection of a WPA.

WPAs provide certainty to members on issues such as hours of work, email policy, limits on meeting times, relief from face to face teaching and support for first year out teachers.

No written rules exist on the Wilcannia-Forbes diocese covering these issues, so situations vary from school to school, and staff are at the mercy of each new diocesan director.

“We have different limits on meeting times depending on what director is in charge. You might have one school where the principal decides that relief from face to face teaching should be used for a ‘learning walk’ through classrooms with the principal, rather than for marking and programming or individual time with a student,” Peter said.

“There are schools where the principal has decided the day ends at 4pm rather than when duty of care finishes.

“A new director could come in and change the rules and we have nothing to go on because there are no written rules. We are currently lucky with the director we have as he is very personal and listens but if things change we have nothing to fall back on.”

The situation for reps is difficult, particularly if there is a dispute.

The IEU is now in the process of getting each school’s chapter to pass a motion calling for a WPA for the diocese. At IEU’s June council meeting a motion can be approved so that the next round of bargaining for a new enterprise agreement in Wilcannia-Forbes includes a WPA.

Sue Osborne