Big Brother surveillance or creating a safer school?

The installation of CCTV in schools and early childhood settings is an issue that is intermittently raised with the union by its members.

Although they’ve been around a while, the installation of new cameras often sparks concern that they will be used to spy on staff or invade their privacy.

There are pros and cons to CCTV. It can increase security around the school, cutting down on vandalism and theft. It can also highlight bullying and be used to detect vaping.

If a teacher is accused of inappropriate conduct by a student, the CCTV footage may provide evidence to clear their name.

But there are also fears it could be used to critique a teacher’s’ performance in the classroom.

Here’s what IEU VicTas Senior Industrial Officer Denis Mason wrote for IE magazine on the topic in October 2017. The laws he cites are still current:

“In NSW, the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW) dictates that an employer must give 14 days written notice to staff to let them know they intend to instal CCTV.

“The Act prohibits (with exceptions) covert surveillance without court approval and prohibits surveillance in a change room, toilet facility, shower or other bathing facility at a workplace.

“Under the Act, written notice must be given at least 14 days prior to any surveillance commencing.

“The notice must set out specified details. For new employees, notification must be given before they start work.

“Cameras must be clearly visible and signs must notify people that they may be under surveillance and must be clearly visible at each entrance.

“While it may be reasonable to use cameras in places where crimes may otherwise take place (banks, shops etc), classrooms are open places where theft and vandalism are relatively rare.

“Most things that happen in a classroom are witnessed by a teacher and several students. The justification for having cameras is much weaker.

“Employers with an enterprise agreement are generally obliged to consult employees over any introduction of major change. Introducing surveillance almost certainly constitutes such a change.

“The employer must consult with employees regarding the change and any measures to avert or mitigate adverse effects on employees. There have been cases where the failure to consult with employees has resulted in the employer having substantial penalties ordered against it by a court.”

Things to consider regarding CCTV:

  • the staff, children’s and on occasion parents’ rights to privacy would be affected
  • staff argue that it threatens their professional freedom, and they deserve to be trusted. Its important to consider thier concerns that CCTV would alter the character of schools which are fundamentally happy, safe places where children are treated well
  • if staff and students are aware that CCTV is in place, then it would be expected that they would behave better
  • some staff like this oversight by management as they see it as a form of protection against unfunded parental and student allegations/complaints, and
  • any consideration for the installation should first involve discussion with staff, including what type of CCTV will be installed and where and what other limitations should be imposed.

If you have any concerns about the use of cameras at your school or centre, contact your IEU Rep or organiser.