Minister abandons workers

The minister expressed confidence that the NSW Education Department could find places in other schools for the students. For the staff nothing, not even a passing comment.

John Quessy, Secretary

In early February the Federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham announced that federal funding to the Malek Fahd Islamic School would cease from 8 April. Funding was to be revoked because the school authorities had not adequately demonstrated compliance with the Education Act in terms of financial and governance requirements. The announcement stunned the school community and left the almost 200 staff, the majority IEU members, fearful for their jobs and entitlements.

The IEU steadfastly supports that those in receipt of public funds should be fully and transparently accountable for those funds and that these should be used exclusively for their designated purposes. We accept that the minister has responsibility for ensuring proper accountability.

However, the minister also has responsibility for the impact and effect of that decision on others and cannot simply abrogate that responsibility.

Malek Fahd is a school of more than 2400 students and almost 200 staff spread across three campuses in western Sydney. It draws more than 75% of its resources from government funding and clearly the withdrawal of those resources would prohibit the continued operation of the school, the ongoing education of students in that setting and the employment of staff.

The minister expressed confidence that the NSW Education Department could find places in other schools for the students. For the staff nothing, not even a passing comment. End of ministerial responsibility. End of story.

If the school were to close some 200 workers would be left without jobs and their accumulated entitlements in jeopardy. These people have done nothing wrong; they have provided opportunities for outstanding education to their school community since 1989 yet this minister and this Federal Government are prepared to toss them on the scrapheap without a thought.

From the time of the announcement the Union has sought a meeting with Minister Birmingham to address the issues arising from his decision, issues of employment, of entitlements if the school was unable to cover its liabilities and technical details regarding the continued operation of the school while it undertakes the process of appeal to which it is entitled.

At the time of writing the minister has not responded to our repeated requests to meet and one can only conclude he has no interest in the real life collateral damage of his decision. This offhand and cavalier attitude is, it seems, symptomatic of this government.

Despite this the Union has been meeting with members and has been acting on their concerns with those authorities that take their responsibilities more seriously. Working with the employer’s representatives, IEU officers have succeeded in having a large number of staff, who were incorrectly classified as temporary, made permanent. Regardless of whether the school survives or not these members are better off with correct classifications.

Many teachers at the school are working toward accreditation at Proficient Teacher and some on the cusp of completing that milestone. Were they to lose employment with their Teacher Accreditation Authority they could find themselves in conflict with the legislated timeframes for that accreditation and potentially without the capacity to teach at all. The Union has met with senior officers from BOSTES and successfully secured their co-operation to avoid that situation.

The IEU has provided advice and assistance to other teachers currently part way through a period of maintaining their accreditation. Malek Fahd is a Band 3 school where several members are well advanced in the process of progressing from Band 2 to Band 3, a process that would stall indefinitely were the school to close. Their Union has an officer working closely with them during this unsettling period.

Most of all our members are nervous for the future of their school and their jobs. Many who have years of service are worried that the school will be forced to close and that their accumulated entitlements will be lost or not recovered for months or even years. More than a few are not even aware of what their entitlements might be and have sought Union assistance with that most fundamental of questions. There is concern as well that during this period of uncertainty parents might remove students to other schools threatening staff with redundancy even if the school survives.

The school authority may well be at fault in matters of financial governance but the minister, in taking the decision he did, was well aware of the consequences of that decision on the staff of the school and cannot forever wash his hands of the fallout from his decision.

John Quessy