The following is an extract from my report to the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Annual General Meeting. To read the full version see http://www.ieu.asn.au/news-publications/news/2017/january/john-quessys-report-agm
As the year wends its way towards its inevitable close, I cannot but be mindful of Shakespeare’s observation “True it is that we have seen better days”. On the world stage, we witness posturing from almost all world leaders as famine, poverty, disease, oppression, civil war and ethnic cleansing displace millions of our fellow man yet countries such as ours harden their hearts and close doors to those displaced by events not of their making.
In our own world of education and industrial relations in NSW and the ACT, we have witnessed some of the most shameful and disgraceful behaviours by employers, particularly Catholic employers and among the most appalling and ignorant decisions ever made by education ministers.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham bungled any attempt to introduce a ‘needs based’ school funding model by consulting with none of those who actually operate schools. The model he proposed and that the Senate accepted will see many millions of dollars ploughed into some of the most expensive schools in the country leaving poorer schools worse off.
The year has been one of outrageous behaviour by Catholic system employers across NSW and the ACT and it is unclear whether their appointed mouthpiece, CCER is the puppet or the puppeteer.
Years of assuring the Union that we had agreed access to arbitration was exposed for the deception that it was in March when the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn questioned the IEU right to refer a dispute over term dates to arbitration without the consent of the employer. When the Union questioned whether this new “access only with consent” was now the position of all 11 dioceses, we were unable to get a direct answer.
In June, a decision by the full bench of the FWC when ruling on a matter in an unrelated industry issued an interpretation of the Fair Work Act which said that the FWC had no power to arbitrate a dispute without the consent of the parties involved in the dispute. We had our answer and requested CCER to give that consent in a reworded Dispute Settlement clause. We asked that they put into the EA what they had twice assured the Union in previous years. The Industrial Annexure provides a full explanation of this matter and how the attitude and behaviour of Catholic employers escalated into prolonged delays, hearings before the FWC and industrial action.
This time last year some 450 independent schools were voting on an enterprise agreement which was ultimately endorsed and in late February, the Union concluded negotiations with 10 dioceses for a new EA to cover principals. Astute observers might note that these agreements were concluded before Catholic employers reneged on their assurances to the Union regarding arbitration and well before the ruling of the FWC in June.
It is a pathetic for them to now advance an argument that the Union position taken before an event and its outcomes were known did not include the knowledge arising from those events.
It is imperative to highlight the astonishingly hypocritical behaviour of Sydney Catholic Schools in their treatment of staff who are subject to criminal charges. While advocating that Cardinal George Pell is entitled to the presumption of innocence (to which he is absolutely entitled), SCS continues to terminate the employment of lay staff who face charges with total disregard for the presumption of innocence or for the outcome of those cases. They seek to deny individuals access to relief from unfair dismissal and where cases go against them (as they almost always do), they endeavour to circumvent the orders of the FWC.
I also highlight the plight of our members in the ACT Early Learning Centres who were rudely and unnecessarily removed from the 2015 Enterprise Agreement and promised they would get their own EA immediately afterwards. That agreement was finally made in February 2017. Parramatta Counsellors achieved an EA in September following negotiations which commenced in 2013 and the employer has largely abandoned negotiations for Parramatta CEO (CEDP now) office staff which commenced at the same time.
There is no doubt that making and enforcing industrial instruments is a core part of the work of unions. In both ELICOS and the ECS sectors, the IEU has achieved above average pay increases in some EAs with an increasing number of our early childhood members reaching parity or near parity with teachers in schools.
We have long argued that teachers are teachers regardless of where they work and have much unfinished business on behalf of early childhood members where we have devoted considerable time and resources to our Equal Remuneration Case which we hope will be heard next year. This is another long term commitment with work this year focusing on finding an appropriate comparator and collecting witness statements. In 2018 as the case heads to the courtrooms, our budget makes provisions for the legal expenses we will incur.
Our early childhood members who in NSW were accredited en masse mid last year and entered their first maintenance of accreditation phase were provided access to registered online PD by the Union partnership with Teacher Learning Network (TLN).
Since our last AGM, there have been significant changes to legislation relating to Child Protection in NSW and a new Reportable Conduct scheme adopted in the ACT. This new arrangement is largely modelled on the NSW system. The Child Protection annexure provides significant detail and addresses the growing number of cases the Union handles following allegations. In most instances, this merely requires advising and supporting members with a response to those allegations however representation in courts and tribunals may also be necessary.
Unfortunately, investigation processes often leave much to be desired and members are denied easy access to detailed information and alleged ‘evidence’. The intersection between allegations, charges, the WWCC and accreditation or registration has become complex and we advise all members to get Union advice is soon as they are told of an allegation and certainly before responding.
Members frequently report that school based PD and training in this area sadly lacking, that procedures are not known or not followed and that unnecessary delays and distress is the result.
The Malek Fahd saga has been playing out for several years however the short version is that on several occasions, the school has been threatened with closure due to the likely loss of Government funding. Over this period, Organisers have attended dozens of Chapter meetings and visits to the school. We have been instrumental in compelling the school authorities to keep members informed, had more than 22 temporary staff made permanent, others reclassified and correctly paid, chased up unpaid superannuation and intervened to ensure that the school adhered to its obligations towards those working towards accreditation or maintaining accreditation.
When at the end of Term 2 the school conceded that it might not reopen in Term 3, our Officers worked with NESA officials to guarantee that those many members who were pre 2004 teachers had their details lodged with NESA and secondary email addresses provided so NESA could contact them when they became accredited on 1 January 2018. We also provided Professional Development on writing resumes.