Working from the ground up

50-year member Kevin Phillips, left, with former NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam

Kevin Phillips recently celebrated 50 years’ membership of the IEU, but he’s a lot more than a loyal member. He was actively involved in some pivotal moments in the union’s history.

Kevin became a teacher in 1968, working for government schools for two years before moving to Marist Hamilton (now St Francis Xavier’s College) in 1970.

Back then, Kevin was one of the early members of the Newcastle branch of the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, which became the Independent Teachers Association and eventually evolved into the IEU.

“It was operating out of a paper box in those days,” Kevin said.

Joining the union was like eating dinner to Kevin. It was just something you did.

“My dad had been a union rep, my brother was a union rep, I was brought up with the understanding that it’s the right thing to be in the union,” he said.

Starting as school rep, he worked his way through the ranks, as branch president, IEU Council delegate, IEU Executive member and, after finishing his long teaching career, became an IEU organiser for two years, based in the Newcastle office, until retiring in 2017.

One of the most important union wins Kevin recalls is when Catholic school teachers gained the same salaries as government school teachers in the mid-1970s.

“The biggest boost to membership as far as I was concerned, was when we took on the employers and got matching salaries to departmental teachers, because at that stage we were earning 70% of the state award [for government school teachers],” Kevin said.

“There were more brothers than lay teachers. There was a brown paper bag at Christmas with some extra money to make up for the fact that we weren’t being paid as much as government school teachers.

“When our salaries became tied with the state school teachers we weren’t ‘less than’.

“They needed to attract more lay staff with teaching degrees to boost government funding for Catholic schools.

“We were a growing union in that period. We were being recognised as a real force and being sought for our opinions and able to have people represent us on committees. These raised the professional profile of teachers and kept the union at the forefront. We changed from the AMMA to the ITA to the IEU.”

Kevin also played a role in winning fair superannuation for teachers.

“I’m proud of the efforts that we went through to get superannuation in our diocese. We got rid of [one firm] who were the employer’s choice to run our superannuation. They were making money hand over fist and giving us minimal amounts. We ended up with a decent one. Our own super. Having industry funds really gave us the chance to say to people, this is why you’re a member of a union.

“We are now big enough and strong enough to have your own superannuation fund running for us.”

Former NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam said: “While 50 years of membership is a mighty contribution in itself, Kevin has given generously of his time to the IEU in numerous capacities.

“As a key driver of the Hunter Valley Sub Branch, Kevin ensured members’ rights were improved enormously – equal pay, effective superannuation with member representation, workload and, importantly, advocacy and representation for members.

“Kevin is the epitome of an engaged member who has represented and motivated the collective. Thank you!”

Sue Osborne