A year of celebration and challenge

As the end of a year draws closer, it is usual to reflect on both achievements and challenges and to look forward to the coming year.

Given the impact of COVID during 2021, such a reflection has its complexities and IEU members understandably have a range of views about the past year and what 2022 may bring.

In the IEU’s Term 4 sub branch meetings, all held via Zoom, members have described the challenges of lockdowns, of online teaching, and the return to school in Term 4 amid ongoing COVID issues in many communities.

The transfer of COVID contact tracing from NSW Health to systems and schools has also had a major workload impact on some schools in Term 4.

Among the frustrations, however, members have acknowledged their own resilience and that of their colleagues in responding to the learning and wellbeing needs of students and families.

Principals, teachers, counsellors and support staff have indicated that a significant part of their work has been in supporting students and families experiencing mental health issues associated with the social and economic impacts of COVID.

Digital divide

In some areas, COVID has exacerbated the ‘digital divide’ and students and communities have not enjoyed equality of access to devices and the internet.

Staff shortages

At the same time as these COVID challenges, growing concerns about a teacher shortage have become a reality in some schools, with principals and teachers sharing with the IEU the difficulties of attracting and retaining staff in metropolitan, regional and remote schools.

One principal member in suburban Sydney told the union that during Term 4 she had regularly taught classes because of the lack of casual staff, as had her leadership team and specialist teachers. Another Sydney principal said he had two ongoing unfilled permanent vacancies which were impacting heavily on workload.

A regional principal member argued that for the future of the profession, governments, employers and unions must work collectively to increase teachers’ pay, improve their working conditions and ensure more secure employment, citing research from the University of Sydney (see Newsmonth #7, October 2021) showing that teachers’ salaries have not kept pace with increases for other professionals.

Within the context of these challenges, it is also important to celebrate the ongoing work of the union in 2021 for our members. These include:

  • ongoing bargaining for enterprise agreements (EA), including the Term 4 voting for the independent sector MEAs and for counsellors in the Parramatta Diocese, the current EA negotiations in the Adventist sector and for Life Education members, and the upcoming campaign in the NSW/ACT Catholic systemic sector; bargaining has also continued in the early childhood sector for new and renewed agreements
  • support for members individually and collectively in relation to workplace concerns and disputes
  • important gains in the IEU’s case in the Fair Work Commission for pay equity for early childhood teachers that will result in substantial pay rises for teachers employed under modern awards
  • a focus on support staff through the joint IEU/employer working party in the Catholic systemic sector to seek pay parity with NSW government sector support staff
  • continued engagement and advocacy with NESA and TQI in relation to teacher professional development and accreditation
  • improving the NCCD process through the development of an agreed Factsheet in conjunction with the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment
  • ongoing IEU involvement with the social justice, women and equity and environmental agendas.

The heart of the IEU’s role is working collectively with our members to protect and enhance their industrial and professional interests and their wellbeing.

As 2021 draws to a close, the union thanks all members for their engagement and support and we all hope for a safe and healthy year ahead in 2022.