New to the profession?

What is the IEU and why you should join

How unions work

Unions are groups of workers
Workers organise themselves into unions to solve problems that individuals can’t solve themselves
Unions exist because groups have more power than individuals
Power is the ability to force employers to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do
Union power is based on the threat of collective action to solve problems
Not everyone has the same problem at the same time
To operate, unions need solidarity. Solidarity means ‘I will support you when you have a problem on the understanding that you will support me when I have a problem’.

The Independent Education Union is the union for teachers and support staff in non-government schools; that is, Catholic schools and other independent schools. It also covers degree-qualified teachers who work in early childhood centres, and teachers who work in English language colleges (ELICOS).

For those in Catholic systemic schools, it’s crucial to be a member right now, so that you can participate in the Hear Our Voice campaign for better pay and conditions.

In NSW and the ACT, there are about 32,000 IEU members. In Australia as a whole, there are more than 75,000 members. The more IEU members there are at your workplace, the stronger the union’s voice becomes.

IEU Council is the key decision-making body of the union. The IEU is divided into geographical branches, each of which elects delegates to Council every three years. Council meets four times a year, with an Annual General Meeting in October.

Delegates are elected by a postal ballot of all members in their geographical branch. Schools and centres are part of ‘chapters’ or a group of schools and centres in a geographic area that meet regularly with their assigned organiser.

When you join the union, you have access to a union representative (rep) at your school if you work in one. This is a member of staff who has volunteered to help the union. Or you can contact the union’s organiser who is assigned to your chapter. Reps and organisers can give you advice on issues relating to your employment contract, your pay, leave entitlements, problems with bullying, child protection allegations or performance issues.

Union membership also comes with other professional benefits such as publications sent directly to your home, enews, free online professional development courses and other events.

Most importantly, being part of a union means you add your voice to a collective that gives you more power at the negotiating table, so that when it’s time for your enterprise agreement or award to be updated, or there are issues with your health and safety at work, the union can be a powerful voice on your behalf.

It’s no surprise that people who belong to unions generally earn higher wages.

In 2018 ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said: “A weakening of workplace rights in all industries over the last 30 years has created record inequality, insecure work and record low wage growth. All Australians suffer when union membership declines. Australia needs a strong trade union movement.”

The union is also an advocate to government making decisions about education issues that affect your day-to-day work life, and the children you care for.

If you’re not a member of the union, you can’t access its support if a problem arises suddenly. Like insurance, you need to have been a member for a while to access help from the union.

Samuel Gompers, one of the founders of the labour movement in America, said “the trade union movement represents the organised economic power of the workers. It is in reality the most potent and the most direct social insurance the workers can establish”.

Here’s what some IEU members say:

Amy Mead, teacher
“It’s so important to be part of the IEU. It’s the best way to protect your career and know your rights in the workplace. It’s great to have somewhere to turn, to ask discreet questions.”

Carolyn Collins, IEU Vice President, Support Staff
“Support staff can be quite vulnerable and are often casuals, so they need the union more than anybody.”

Sarita Baidya, early childhood teacher
“The union has supported me in many ways and helped me to work out any issues I've had. I’m a union member because it gives me a sense of security so that if something happens, I have the union backing me.”

Sidonie Coffey, principal
“Over the past 10 years, the changes to principals’ work and workload have been extraordinary. The IEU provides us with an opportunity to raise our concerns.”

Peter Blankevoort, ELICOS teacher
“I’m a strong believer in unions. When my employer was reluctant to negotiate for a new enterprise agreement, my colleagues and I got organised – we joined up members and asked previous members to rejoin. The result? A workplace and union chapter much better equipped to face an employer reluctant to negotiate.”

Find out more by talking to your rep; visit the IEU website or call us on 8202 8900. We always welcome new members.

Sue Osborne