New organisers bolster union’s team

Opportunity for everyone

Three new union organisers fresh from teaching and keento help their colleagues started working at the IEU in the new year.

Peter Criticos has a long association with the IEU, serving as a Rep, on IEU Council and on the Executive. He came to the attention of the IEU’s leadership as a Rep, achieving a density of 107 per cent union membership at his school, getting even casual teachers signed up.

He wants to continue in that vein as an organiser, creating strength through numbers in as many schools and centres as he can. His philosophy has evolved from the traditional days of strong union membership in the 1980s and 1970s, when his grandfather worked at BHP in Newcastle.

“Granddad hurt his back, and the union fought for his rights to make sure he got his workers comp,” Peter said.

“Grandad was a Greek migrant, and he was always a staunch unionist from the moment he came to Australia in 1958.”

His father lectures in business and is a loyal Labor supporter.

“The amalgam of staunch unionist and Labour supporter created Peter Criticos, the union organiser,” he said.

He started teaching in 2016 in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, as teacher, HSIE coordinator and learning support teacher.

Having had some bad times at school himself, a Greek boy growing up in Newcastle, he’s passionate about making sure every kid has an opportunity to grown and be themselves, and to never be discouraged by school.

Peter said years of Liberal rule had damaged the reputation of unions around Australia, and he’d like to play a role in rebuilding trust. Peter will be based at the union’s Parramatta office.

Removing the hoops

Luke Breen was a primary school teacher before starting with the union. He taught Years K-6 for 20 years, as well as taking up some leadership roles, His most recent school, All Saints Catholic College in Liverpool, presented some challenges with its diverse cohort.

Luke said during his 20-year career, teaching had changed every single year, becoming more and more stressful and busy.

“Just something like organising an excursion has become so stressful, with all the hoops there are to jump through.

“Workload, bureaucracy, it’s weighing teachers down, on top of the marking, the students, the parents.”

Luke said he particularly wanted to use his time at the IEU to provide support for early career teachers. His own memory of being a first year out is that support was lacking.

“Many good young teachers are dropping out of the profession too early because they can earn more money with less stress at other work,” Luke said.

“A tired teacher is an ineffective teacher,” he said.

Luke would like his own two young children to have teachers in front of them that are operating at their best level.

He’s looking forward to a dynamic and challenging time at the IEU, visiting many schools to offer what support he can.

Like Peter, Luke has a long history with the IEU as a Rep, Lansdowne Sub Branch President and member of IEU Council.

“The profession is at a crossroads, with so many leaving. As an experienced teacher, I understand this and want to provide the best support.”

A different route

Josef Dabbs comes to the IEU from a more unusualroute, but he is a former IEU Rep with 22 years’ experience. When Josef graduated from university in the UK with a degree in French and German, he used his language skillsto travel the world, teaching English in Turkey, London, Japan and finally Australia.

After the Kobe earthquake in Japan, he and his wife moved to Australia to teach English as a Second Language and decided to make it their permanent home.

Following a stint overseas in London and Italy while he applied for permanent residency in Australia, Josef finally settled at Taylors College in Sydney, teaching on the University of Sydney Foundation Program, where he stayed for the next 22 years.

Helping overseas students prepare for high school and university study in Australia, Josef said his early years at the college were generally harmonious.

Josef became the rep as soon as he started at the college and said there was no significant tension between management and staff and that teachers enjoyed pay and conditions that were superior to their high school equivalents.

“The only problem was we had to renew our enterprise agreement every three years,” he said.

The college had a high density of union membership, which Josef attributes to good chapter meetings.

COVID-19, however, saw a steady decline in numbers, and after the end of job keeper and exhausting other leave entitlements, 50 staff were made redundant in a morning staff Zoom meeting.

At the IEU, Josef is on a steep learning curve, getting his head around the many different industrial instruments that apply across the non-government sector.

“I was very surprised to find so much difference between the Work Practices Agreements in the Catholic systemic schools,” he said.

He looks forward to supporting teachers and support staff from all sectors to the best of his abilities.