The best campaign

It was an absolute privilege to accept, on behalf of our members, the ACTU Campaign of the Year Award from Secretary Sally McManus and new President Michelle O’Neill at the ACTU Congress dinner in late July.

The award recognises the campaign the Union ran during 2017 and 2018 to secure the right to arbitration in an enterprise agreement (EA) covering the bulk of our membership, teachers and support staff in Catholic schools across 11 dioceses.

We did not set out to win an award. We set out to get the best possible conditions for our members locked into an enforceable EA and Work Practices Agreements (WPAs). It was however most gratifying and rewarding to have the work of our entire staff acknowledged by our peers.

Every union campaigns and every campaign is very different, modeled to suit the issues and the membership. For the IEU we found ourselves on constantly shifting ground, required to balance multiple facets simultaneously.

The award also recognises our members actively engaging with the Change the Rules fight when confronted with their own reality of the broken industrial laws which heavily favour employers. Remember that Catholic employers took to the courts to oppose our right to seek protected action ballots, pressing the Union to defend that right and win the case.

At issue was the absolute right to arbitrate disputes in relation to the EA or WPAs before the Fair Work Commission. It was ironic that we were in dispute with employers about how to settle disputes. While this remained a contested issue between us and the employers – negotiations on other aspects of the Union’s claim continued.

Most members are not familiar with how disputes are resolved and the concept of either party referring a dispute to arbitration is difficult to grasp. Explaining this and its importance was the first challenge for Union officers. Countless delegates at ACTU Congress commented that: ’We’ve decided we won’t be having an umpire any more’ cartoon did that job exceptionally well.

Employers remain free to put their own proposals to a vote at any time during bargaining and to control the voting process. Clearly these rules need changing.

Our campaign relied on providing information and updates to members in all our usual ways, but also utilising communications we’d never used before. We absorbed an unprecedented number of chapter meetings, borrowed the resources of interstate colleagues, used our print publications effectively and harnessed local media. Frequent video updates, Facebook live, emails and SMS reminders became our weekly routine.

We had buttons, badges, stickers, t-shirts and banners but most of all we had the resolve and trust of our members. When Catholic employers, having failed to squash that resolve, took the extraordinary step of putting to the vote an EA without Union endorsement, our members crushed it with an 88% ‘no’ vote. The rest is history.

The current industrial laws are designed to provide obstacles to workers bargaining for enterprise agreements. They allow employers to avoid the prospect of protected industrial action, require a majority to vote in ballots for protected action through (mostly) archaic postal ballots and a majority to support the action.

Employers remain free to put their own proposals to a vote at any time during bargaining and to control the voting process. Clearly these rules need changing.

Despite every obstacle, every delay and bribe, IEU members throughout NSW and the ACT held their resolve and won the day. This ACTU award honours them.

While that campaign is behind us, we are yet to complete a major crusade we commenced in 2013, the battle for equal pay for our early childhood teacher members. Elsewhere in this issue are the stories of what we are seeking, how we are going about it and why we need to win this major court encounter.

The early childhood sector is almost entirely female dominated. Teachers can earn more than $30,000 pa less than teachers in other sectors. This is an argument for equal pay and the Union has to demonstrate to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) that early childhood teachers perform work of equal value to similar workers in male dominated industries.

Our case opened on 26 July, and is opposed by employers and others in the sector and will run for several weeks before the FWC gives a ruling later in the year. This is the finale to our Teachers R Teachers campaign, which included the launch of this case five years ago, as part of an ongoing action. While this will play out in a courtroom, it has seen enormous engagement from our early childhood members, many of whom have provided evidence and material to assist us to prove the point.

We have left no stone unturned in our quest to win pay equity for these members.

John Quessy