Social media sends strong message to employers

Last year, teachers and support staff in Catholic schools in NSW and the ACT took multiple stop work actions to protest an unfair, non Union enterprise agreement (EA) proposed by their employers, Journalist Alex Menyhart writes.

The employers’ action was met with a concerted show of opposition by members, particularly characterised by their response on social media.

If the EA was approved, teachers and support staff would not be guaranteed access to an independent umpire in order to resolve a dispute. This move by employers was an attack on the fundamental rights of their employees.

As part of their strategy to counteract the employer’s action, the Union launched a significant social media campaign to help prevent this cynical agreement becoming a reality.

This proposed enterprise agreement was affecting 11 dioceses across NSW and ACT – a lot of land to cover. Social media meant that members everywhere could actively have a voice in the campaign and receive instant updates from their Union.

It also gave them a chance to feel solidarity with members in other dioceses and take inspiration from their actions posted online.

Members want to know what their Union is doing for them. Harnessing social media meant the Union could respond immediately to any members who became articulate on the issue of arbitration.

Real time action

Through a series of Facebook Live videos, IEUA NSW/ACT updated members with the latest developments, answered questions in a series of Live Q&A sessions and broadcast live footage of stop work meetings.

It was difficult to run these events at times which suited all teachers and support staff, so officers collected questions from members beforehand and all the videos were uploaded to Facebook and YouTube afterwards so they could be re-watched anytime by anyone. These videos garnered thousands of individual views throughout the campaign, with a peak viewing rate of over 9000 for just one video. The overall Facebook page reach also increased dramatically – with a peak weekly page reach of 32,000!

Message understood

Arbitration was an issue heavily weighed down in legalistic jargon. When bargaining was taking place between the Union and employers, the employers leaned across the table and said ‘good luck explaining this to your members!’ Unlike employers, the Union put its faith in the intelligence of its members and provided detailed and regular updates on the progress of bargaining and posted correspondence between them and employers on the Union website, Facebook and Twitter.

‘Pollie packs’ were sent to Labor Party members because of their known support of the Union on the issue of arbitration. Politicians sent back letters of support and photos wearing the Union t-shirt and these were then uploaded to Facebook. Members could see their local MP rally behind the cause and this created a sense of the contribution they were making to the larger labour movement.

Action generated on social media also supported the content of digital and print communications from the Union.

Social media in no way replaced the need for reps on the ground and in schools, rallying members and informing them of developments in the campaign and making speeches at rallies, but it did provide a larger voice to members, and engaged and linked communities across geographical boundaries.

So what was the result of this campaign? A resounding 87.87% of voters voted ‘no’ to the non Union enterprise agreement – a win for teachers and support staff and a win for effective social media campaigning!


Alex Menyhart was the online journalist for IEUA NSW/ACT Branch during the 2017 Catholic systemic schools campaign.