Union power trebles at St Lucy’s

Since late 2023, IEU membership at St Lucy’s School in Wahroonga has trebled – from 18 members in August last year to 63 members in March 2024. St Lucy’s, a Catholic independent school for students with disabilities, is now very much a ‘union school’ and the chapter is still growing.

Why the membership explosion?

For many years, St Lucy’s was part of the Catholic independent schools Model C group, adopting its enterprise agreement.

However, in September 2023, staff were surprised to hear from their employer that St Lucy’s would move away from Model C and onto its own agreement. This was initially met with optimism as the employer said the change was to address the complexity and uniqueness of the work teachers and support staff engage in at the school.

As bargaining commenced and initial offers came through to the IEU, it became clear the offer was inferior to similar schools in the area and to comparative sectors state-wide.

Staff at St Lucy’s would be worse off than if they had stayed on the Model C agreement.

A disappointing offer for teachers

The first offer saw teachers set to take a significant pay-cut had they accepted it.

Through grassroots action, union pressure and membership growth, a pay offer that matches other Catholic independent schools has now been agreed to in principle.

However, the employer is still refusing to match improvements in parental leave conditions that the IEU has successfully won for members in Catholic systemic schools and Catholic independent schools. This issue was conveyed to members via the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) on International Women’s Day – the timing could not have been more insulting.

An insulting offer for support staff

Despite feeling disappointed at not receiving improvements in parental leave, teachers at St Lucy’s are generally satisfied with their pay offer. But the same cannot be said for support staff, particularly teacher’s aides.

St Lucy’s employs twice as many teacher’s aides as teachers, with two allocated to every class on a full-time basis. The current offer for teacher’s aides is unacceptable; they would begin the new agreement period moderately worse off than they would have been under Model C. However, as the years go on, the differentials become even worse.

Members are fired up and feel undervalued. “It is just disrespectful! We are ready to walk,” said one member. “We work so hard for these children. But we don’t feel supported by the school at all.”

Another member said: “I came from another Model C school and this offer is quite insulting.”

Teachers stand by support staff

Recent Chapter meetings have been tense but rising numbers and increasing engagement show members united in supporting one another.

Teacher’s aides who are set to lose out are justifiably upset, but teachers at the schol are are highly vocal, speaking up in support of their valued support staff colleagues.

“They are so important, we don’t want to see good staff leave,” said one.

“I’ve been a teacher at St Lucy’s for many years and love the school, but I can’t understand how our support staff can be so underpaid,” said another member.

Unity and solidarity

The display of unity and solidarity at St Lucy’s highlights exactly what it means to be union.

Once a relatively small Chapter of 18 members, St Lucy’s is now union strong, union proud and ready to fight for a fair deal for all staff at the school.

The IEU will continue bargaining with the employer in the near future. We are committed to achieving just and fair outcomes that reflect the dedication and professionalism of all staff at St Lucy’s.

Charles Wheeler, Organiser
Katie Camarena, Journalist