A tale of three schools:

Coptic Board plays favourites

In a family of three, only two members get to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The Coptic Education Board governs three independent Coptic schools in Sydney: St Mark’s at Wattle Grove; St Mary and St Mina’s in Rockdale; and St Bishoy in Mt Druitt. All three are Coptic Orthodox Colleges.

The board has honoured an annual pay rise to staff in both St Mark’s and St Mary and St Mina’s. But St Bishoy has been left out in the cold.

The IEU has been in negotiations with the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) since December 2019 – before the previous multi-enterprise agreements expired to deliver pay rises and improved conditions to its members in these schools.

But in an unprecedented move, the AIS abrogated its role in the negotiations, leaving it to more than 200 individual schools covered by the agreements to negotiate separately for pay rises for 2021.

When the union approached both St Mark’s and St Mary and St Mina’s, the Coptic Education Board granted staff at these two schools a pay rise of 2.5% – broadly in line with pay rises in government schools, other independent schools, Catholic systemic schools and Christian schools.

But in a strange twist, St Bishoy is also governed by an additional, separate board, which has declined to meet with staff and has not provided information about hard-earned pay increases.

Most staff at St Bishoy are IEU members who have, in good faith, written to the Coptic Education Board. They did not receive a response for more than a month, when the board refused pay rises. To make matters worse, when the union wrote again to the board to seek comment and ask it to review its decision, the board sent an obfuscating letter to St Bishoy staff, falsely accusing them of bullying and intimidation through their union – and again denied them pay rises.

Excuses for not awarding pay rises based on affordability fail the pub test: the Coptic Education Board only recently hired a new CEO to manage all three schools. St Bishoy is running on a surplus, government funding is increasing and enrolments are on the rise.

During the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, St Bishoy’s staff pivoted to teaching online almost overnight. They also support a substantial cohort of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. So why won’t the Coptic Education Board and the St Bishoy’s board award them a fair pay rise? The union will continue supporting its many members at St Bishoy to seek a just and equitable outcome.