Support staff survey

Recently IEUA NSW/ACT Branch undertook a survey of its support staff working in Catholic systemic schools and received over 700 responses – an impressive result showing support staff are engaged with their Union.

A key finding is that a staggering 92% of respondents indicated that they start work before their scheduled time, and 90% stay back. Additionally, 37% never claim overtime and 47% have been directed to take time in lieu instead of an overtime payment.

The breadth of experiences of our support staff members in schools also generated a wide range of issues in the workplace, including:

lack of awareness of particular entitlements, such as the overnight allowance

favouritism or nepotism in the selection of candidates

inequity in allocations of work

lack of transparency in appointments

completion of PD in non work hours

long-term rolling temporary appointments

highly skilled tasks being under classified, and

WHS concerns with fatigue and mental health.

One issue that is causing deep concern is the constant stress of insecure work, keenly felt by teachers’ aides. Also of concern was the time some schools are taking to communicate role allocations and availabilities year by year, with decisions communicated in late December, and only via email.

Another frustration was that support staff are often not aware of their entitlements as waged workers, which is not being communicated by school leadership teams.

IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Vice President Support Staff Carolyn Collins said many school support staff are reluctant to request overtime payment because of the ‘fear factor’ that they may miss out on future employment or that they are seen as incompetent in the work they are assigned.

“If we don’t speak up, we are not doing justice to our role and employers will go on thinking our workloads are adequate and will never perceive that we are overloaded,” Collins said.

“In the past, paid overtime was one of those things that was ‘secret person’s business’. Even if you asked, nobody knew if support staff were paid overtime or where to go to put in an application.

“On a personal level, when I asked about being paid overtime many years ago for a three day overnight excursion, I was told ‘we don’t do that’!

“This went on for many years and finally I asked again to be paid for an upcoming excursion, and I was told ‘no’ and that I would no longer be required for the excursion.

“They quickly went to another more willing member of the support staff. This led to me never being included in excursions for many, many years. Excursions can be the cream in our profession, as we get to know the students and teachers on a whole different level and just changing the working environment for a day can be refreshing.

“I’m not diminishing the stresses and workload of excursions in any way.

“Due to the work of the IEU, school support staff have been recognised as a significant and integral part of school communities.

“However, this is one area that has not evolved as we would like. Time in lieu appears to be the preferred option in schools nowadays.

“However, this may not always be preferred by school support staff as often there can be restrictions in the time frame in which time in lieu is granted. This needs to be done in consultation.

“Often school support staff are reluctant to take time in lieu as it impacts too much on assigned classes and can be challenged by teachers who are not aware of the provisions within our award.

“School support staff are not paid a huge wage and I am sure most, if not all, would prefer to be paid for the work they do, especially overtime.

“Any paid overtime or time in lieu must be directed by your principal or authorised supervisor.

“Please speak up, as our principals may not be aware of the extra workload and are more than willing to see justice done. You may get a surprise of a few extra dollars in your pay.”

On a personal level, when I asked about being paid overtime many years ago for a three day overnight excursion, I was told ‘we don’t do that’!

Log of claims

The Union is aware that some support staff have not been informed of the overtime provision or that there is an overnight camp allowance in the enterprise agreement.

The Union is seeking to remedy these issues with the current Log of Claims which looks at tightening the pathway to permanency, LSL accrual equity and meaningful Professional Development.

Survey responses

Here is just a small selection from the myriad comments the IEU has received through this survey:

“While I’m not asked to work overtime, if I didn’t, the work wouldn’t be completed. Taking time in lieu isn’t an option as the work will just continue to build up.”

“I would like to add that if I do get time in lieu, I’m never allowed to take this when it is convenient for me. Most times I have been instructed to take it at the end of the year.”

“Our roles as aides are never guaranteed from year to year due to funding. We don’t have security and sometimes don’t know how much work we have until the start of the year. I feel like we need to keep our CV fresh and up to date all the time.”

“Often extra work is given with the comment. ‘Only if you have time’. Or ‘Can I have it first thing tomorrow morning?’. More and more tasks are added without consultation, but with expectation it will be done or the flow-on logistical consequences of these additions.”

“I frequently miss breaks in order to help a learning support child who is in need or a teacher who is overwhelmed. This may be toileting, supervising eating or dealing with a meltdown or sensory issues or cleaning a classroom or discussing needs with a classroom teacher. I am not paid for this, I do it to help a child or teacher get through a day however it is becoming more expected in the workplace.”

“Never been paid or had time in lieu for any overnight excursions for the 13 years I’ve worked for Catholic education.”

“The most annoying unpaid work is the compliance training that is always in my own time and can take hours to complete; and teachers aides quite often have to prepare materials for support programs that are not provided by teaching staff and do this in our own time. We have no release time like teaching staff for this or training. I run a gardening program for the school which is planned for and organised in my own time. This requires a few hours planning and set up time every term.”

“It’s an expectation to work unpaid overtime. I have witnessed this in the last 24 years.”

“We do not get offers of any Professional Development whereas teachers have constant access.”

“I do many hours per week at home, planning, organising work for students.”

“Support staff at my school often have their 30 minutes break interrupted by students who need assistance, whether that be to assist them with a special requirement like changing their hearing device or accompanying them in a lift to recess due to their needs. The full 30 minutes isn’t always able to be taken as the LSO is required to bring the class back to their room with the teacher once the bell rings.”

“Working as a Lab Tech I am often required to come in early or stay back late to set up/pack up pracs, equipment for prac exams etc. I’m sure if I asked I would be given time in lieu, however, if I take that time off, there’s nobody here to do my job so it just means extra work when I return. It defeats the purpose. I would much rather be paid for the extra hours that I do (to supplement our ordinary wage!)”

“I am fully aware of my rights, so I have always been treated fairly.”

“I don’t claim the overtime I work because I know my school can’t afford to pay me. I do the overtime because I can’t keep up with the workload.”

Compiled by IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Organiser Lubna Haddad and journalist Sue Osborne.