Evolutionary change vs wholesale disassembling

Mark Northam
Assistant Secretary

What went wrong when the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) dissected an agreement, which had decades of history and understandings contained within it?

Evolutionary change is a feature of sound industrial relations and does not preclude change per se but rather manages, shapes and incorporates changes sought by unions, employers, government (both state and federal), for various educational imperatives and priorities. The IEU’s role is to negotiate agreements that reflect members’ interests and enforce same.

To portray adaptability, certainty and establishment of trust between employees and employers as being somehow reminiscent of the 1970s devalues the history of both the IEU and Catholic employers.

The disassembling of any industrial agreement (without any consultation) with a view to having a revised statewide agreement for both teachers and support staff was an unnecessary and provocative step.

The response by IEU members was entirely predictable. At various CSO/CEO listening assemblies members continually pressed the question ‘why do this?’ and ‘who had this thought bubble’?

At chapter and mass meetings the hostility toward the proposals was palpable.

The driver of change was the move to a ‘standards’ based pay structure aligned with BOSTES expectations underpinned by state legislation. This compelling agenda was well known to the IEU as agreements of a very similar nature have been in place since 2008 in Independent schools. Put plainly, the IEU had already developed the capacity to draft agreements and importantly engage with and support members in new ways.

At no point has the IEU sought to avoid the reality that on January 1, 2018 the pre 2004 teacher workforce must be accredited with the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) and undertake to maintain this accreditation. This process should be an orderly transition.

The prevailing zeitgeist between the IEU and Catholic systemic employees was portrayed as a weakness, an obstacle to entering a ‘new’ world of work and that agreements would take second place to ‘professional conversations’.

These ‘conversations’ would provide the understandings to run school systems that by the very nature of the work they undertake are highly regulated. This perception was not shared by IEU members.

The industrial understandings which have evolved and developed (largely since Catholic schools moved from a religious to a lay workforce) were considered dispensable and an affront to progress. Quite clearly a loyal workforce did not share this view.

A sense of equilibrium can be restored if the endeavours of the past 30 years are acknowledged as not being a millstone but rather the embedding of structures that have assisted a system of schools to flourish.