Letter to the editor: History repeats itself

The IEU May Newsextra asked members in Catholic systemic schools to vote on a motion calling on employers to provide pay increases to “match pay increases for teachers in the government sector to ensure pay parity”. This claim very much reminds me of the many campaigns I supported during the 32 years I taught in a Catholic school.

In 1968, I joined the staff at a Catholic independent school on the western outskirts of metropolitan Sydney after spending my first two years of teaching in a government school.

Not long after I began, a colleague asked how much I was being paid. I explained I was receiving the same rate I was paid at my previous government school. I think it was about $66 a week at the time. His response was “they sucked me in for $44 a week”. This was my introduction to the ‘grace and favour’ system of setting pay rates in non government schools.

I subsequently joined the Assistant Masters’ and Mistresses’ Association, the ‘union’ for teachers in non government schools. It did not take long for me to realise that this union would not have the effectiveness of my previous memberships in the Teachers Federation and an Engineering Union during my apprenticeship.

The AMMA appeared to be little more than a cosy club having been set up by the ‘common rooms’ of the GPS schools in response to government union legislation passed in the early 1950s. The only activity I was aware of was the annual general meeting in Sydney at the end of the year to elect officers for the following year.

Fortunately, I soon became aware of another school teacher in a Catholic school, John Nicholson, who was seeking the post of Secretary of the AMMA. John’s aim was to reshape the AMMA into an active professional union to provide benefits for all non government school teachers. Consequently, my first campaign for the modern IEU was to attend meetings convened by John at the local Leagues Club and travel around to the non government schools in the district urging teachers to attend the AGM and support John’s bid to be elected Secretary.

I am also proud that the IEU is continuing the fifty-year tradition of campaigning to improve the working life of nongovernment school staff

John was elected Secretary and the first campaign of the new Independent Teachers Association (union) was “to ensure pay parity with teachers in the government sector”.

While John Nicholson went on to become Judge Nicholson of the NSW District Court, the union went on to run regular campaigns to improve the working life of non government school staff. As well as protecting pay parity, the campaigns aimed to improve working conditions such as sick leave, maternity leave and long service leave, as well as workloads. The union also provided members with representation in thousands of individual disputes.

My school chapter also grew with the union. It conducted a continual campaign to invite all staff members to join the Union. Regular school chapter meetings were held and clear lines of communication were established to communicate the members’ needs to both the school administration and the union organisers. Delegates were sent to the district branch and through the branch to the governing Council. The chapter always took industrial action to support state campaigns if called upon to do so by the Council.

When I retired from the school, the chapter presented me with silver goblets, which still hold pride of place in my display cabinet. I am also proud that the IEU is continuing the 50-year tradition of campaigning to improve the working life of non government school staff.

Colin Bull has been a member of the IEU for 50 years.