New organisers putting fairness first

Meet your new IEU organisers Charles Wheeler and David Whitcombe and industrial officer George Maniatis. All have one thing in common – a desire to see fairness at the forefront in the workplace.

George will represent members requiring legal advice and representation. He is not new to the IEU, serving as an industrial officer with the union in 2007-9 before leaving for a stint with the Fire Brigade Employees Union. Last year he worked at the Registered Organisations Commission, but he missed the union movement and jumped at the chance to return to the IEU.

“Working for the union movement aligns with my values. My father was a member of the Metalworkers Union and when I was at school he’d be on strike, and he told me it was the only way to get better wages and conditions,” George said.

“I believe unions are the only avenue to dignity in the workplace, and that’s what drives me to be part of the movement.”

While his work revolves around the technicalities of awards and agreements, the power of the union doesn’t come from those instruments, he said.

“The boss isn’t scared of me or an organiser or even the union office, the boss is scared when there are a lot of members in a school. Then they take notice.

“The Liberals and the media have been portraying us as the bad guys for years, but people need to understand where their power comes from. If you want to stand up for yourself, and have some say in your work, you need to join the union.”

David has been a high school teacher for 30 years in a range of independent and public schools. Most recently he worked at Emanuel School in Randwick for 17 years as a senior teacher in Legal Studies and Geography while raising a young family. He also took students on outreach trips to the Northern Territory, East Timor and Kenya to broaden their world view and teach them about development and human rights issues.

I believe unions are the only avenue to dignity in the workplace, and that’s what drives me to be part of the movement.

During his 14 years as IEU Rep, he represented preschool, primary and high school staff in in a wide range of matters. David has extensive experience in fighting for fairness, having previously worked as a volunteer human rights officer in Namibia for several years, which he describes as an “incredible experience in speaking out for vulnerable people”.

David will be working for members in the Met-East and South Coast Branches.

Charles was an effective IEU rep at Green Point Christian College, on the Central Coast, where he was head of languages and Japanese teacher for 14 years.

“I got to see first-hand what collaboration and strength in numbers could achieve. We were listened to,” Charles said.

Green Point has a high density of union membership compared to other Christian schools, which Charles puts down to grassroots organising.

He’s a keen organic gardener, and the college won an IEU Environment Grant several years ago to build a green classroom. That event proved to be good publicity for the union.

“One person tells their friend what a good job the union has done for them, and membership spreads.”

Attending an IEU Activist Conference in 2016 was the final piece in the puzzle, inspiring Charles to “put my money where my mouth is” and commit fully to the union movement.

He wants to work to boost union membership levels in all schools, especially those not associated with strong unionism. Charles will represent members in the South East and Central Coast IEU Branches.

Sue Osborne