Teacher Gertrudes Mitchell has achieved better working conditions for herself and all her colleagues with a bit of determination and help from her Union writes Bedrock Journalist Sue Osborne.
Returning to work after a seven-year break to raise her children, Gertrudes landed a job with an early childhood provider run by a business group in regional NSW.
“I was given a contract to work five days a week, 37.5 hours, but I was classified as part time on the contract,” Gertrudes said.
“This didn’t sit well with me and I asked the boss about it but she said everybody was classed as part time,” she said.
“I’d been out of the workforce for seven years so I thought maybe this was common.
“But it still worried me so I checked against my award, and I thought I ought to be full time. The award stated part time was less that 90% of full time hours, which were 38 per week.”
At this point Gertrudes contacted her IEU Organiser to check that her thinking was correct.
Her organiser suggested she send an email to her employers with the relevant section of the award attached.
The employers replied and said if Gertrudes wanted to be classified as full time, she must work 38 hours a week, an extra half an hour a week, which she agreed to.
‘Being part time meant that with four weeks notice my hours could be changed. Getting changed to two days a week did not work for my family. I wanted more certainty.”
At the same time Gertrudes’ employer was holding regular staff meetings outside normal working hours, usually 6pm to 7.30pm or 8pm. The staff meetings were not paid for and were not deemed ‘compulsory’. Staff were offered dinner.
“At first I was a ‘keen bean’ willing to go to all the meetings, but then I went back to my award and checked with my organiser what my rights were.
“We agreed I should be entitled to time in lieu or paid overtime for those meetings.
“I don’t mind being fed, but I can feed myself. I can’t get back time I’ll be spending at work away from my family.
“It did cause me some stress not going to the meetings, as I wanted to be a team player. But I would not be emotionally blackmailed.
“All those poor childcare workers that earn even less than me were attending the meetings and getting Subway. I’m worth more than half a Subway sandwich. I get paid more per hour than that.”
Gertrudes watched a staff training video in which the business’ CEO said “staff were the company’s biggest asset”.
She decided to write to him about the unpaid overtime issue.
“I ran the email past my organiser again to make sure I wasn’t doing anything illegal or being rude before I sent it.”
The following Monday the signage adverting the next staff meeting was changed to say the meeting was compulsory, and a policy stating that all staff meetings attracted time in lieu was posted on the company intranet.
“I’m not sure I could have pulled all this off without Union support because I would not have been sure of myself,” Gertrudes said.
“I’ve heard staff saying they are not sure if they will get the time in lieu. If they were familiar with their award or joined their Union and talked to them, they would know that if they don’t get time in lieu within four weeks of the meeting they should be paid overtime instead.
“I was able to move forward because I knew I could call the Union and they would get back to me quickly on these issues.”