IEU saves brave member's career change package

A Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) office bid to wriggle out of paying a member’s career change package has been defeated in court by the IEU, after an arduous five year legal battle.

Alistair Symons was Deputy Principal at Mount St Joseph Milperra when he was offered a ‘Career Change Package’ which was equivalent to half a year’s pay from his employer.

Symons had been a teacher in Catholic schools for 23 years, although in the SCS system for about a year. This is because his school, which was previously Catholic independent school, had become systemic. SCS subsequently decided it wished to reduce the number of deputy positions at Mount St Joseph. After some consideration, Symons accepted the package offer and tendered his resignation.

However, when Symons was subsequently appointed to a new job with Notre Dame University, SCS said he was no longer entitled to the package, as he had a new job, even though Symons had informed his principal he was applying for other jobs and he had received a reference from his principal.

Symons disputed this 'on principle' and the IEU took up the case on his behalf. The initial case before the Federal Circuit Court was unsuccessful, but the IEU legal team appealed to the Federal Court and was successful on appeal.

The Federal Court found that Symons’ success in gaining another position did not break the contract between himself and SCS to receive the Career Change Package.

Symons calls the outcome a “pyrrhic victory’’ however. The case has taken a heavy toll on him and his family. The IEU legal team describes his cross examination as “brutal” in the Federal Circuit Court because SCS’s lawyers questioned Symons’ integrity, even though it had nothing to base that attack on and his character had no relevance to the case.

This experience has taught me that the SCS will do what’s expedient. The IEU will do what is right, fair and just.

“I was brought up in a Catholic family, went to Catholic schools and have taught in Catholic schools for 23 years, I know a bit about Catholic social teaching,” Symons said.

“I am angered by their hypocrisy. It’s a moral victory, justice has been served after five long years. I can walk away from this sad and sorry saga with my integrity intact, they can’t.

“I find solace in the fact this is now an indelible part of case law which will protect other IEU members in the future and be a thorn in the side of unscrupulous employers who seek to exploit their employees.

“They’ll know if you enter into a legally binding contract with an employee you can’t renege on that deal. This case is a collective win for employees.”

Symons said if he had not been an IEU member, he would not have proceeded with the case.

“I’m so grateful to the IEU for providing this support and sticking with it. I am glad we were able to provide this extra layer of protection for workers. If I wasn’t in the IEU, the employer would have been able to get away with it.

“It’s remarkable that in my hour of need I had to turn to a secular institution for support and protection from a Catholic organisation that was trying to deny me my legal rights. This experience has taught me that the SCS will do what’s expedient. The IEU will do what is right, fair and just.”

Sue Osborne