Schools Beyond the pandemic to a new VGSA

  • By Justin Mullaly
  • This article was published more than 2 years ago.
  • 23 Nov 2021

As a union, we won significant benefits and concessions to help members through the pandemic. This strength in numbers gives us the same power to achieve a better Schools Agreement.

This time last year, as we emerged from the long second lockdown, I was optimistic that we would be able to return to relative normality. While the response to the pandemic exacerbated already excessive workloads, at least members would be back in the classroom. Though our schools were feeling the effects of being the lowest funded in the nation, at least there was some additional support for meeting student needs through the tutor learning program.

Now, after our fifth or sixth lockdown (Victorians have lost count!), with members mostly back on site, we’ve reached an important juncture. As I write, a 90% community vaccination rate is in sight, including young people aged 12 to 15, with younger students eligible soon.

While the basis of my optimism was delayed, at least now it won’t be denied. But with our industrial agreement yet to be finalised, the hope for a return to permanent on-site schooling with improved conditions and salaries won’t be realised yet. And the state government can’t blame COVID-19 for that.

Members deserve boundless accolades for their response to the pandemic. When schools shifted to ‘remote and flexible’ learning prior to Easter 2020, we rapidly came to terms with online learning. Additional pupil-free days won by the union gave members some extra planning time.

With direct input from members through over 300 regional meetings, we advocated for improved occupational health and safety (OHS), including PPE and extra cleaning. The union secured working arrangements for vulnerable members and for those who contracted COVID-19, improved IT provision, and secured a working from home allowance.

When the AEU argues for these measures, our success is the result of 50,000-plus members working together.

Early feedback from CRT members saw the department agree to a payment arrangement for casual employees. We worked through arrangements for special schools, influenced return-to-school plans and safety protocols, and advocated for support for VCE and VCAL students and teachers through the ‘consideration of educational disadvantage’.

We argued for reduced reporting requirements and a streamlined performance and development process. We demanded school staff get priority access to vaccines and paid leave for appointments. We continue to advocate for OHS, including ventilation requirements and air filters.

When the AEU argues for these measures, our success is the result of 50,000-plus members working together.
At this time in 2020, we had just presented the government with our log of claims for a new Victorian Government Schools Agreement, one that would see investment in our schools to reduce excessive workloads and deliver decent salaries, not least to classroom-based ES.

Despite an expired agreement and more than 80 negotiation meetings, the Andrews government is yet to properly address our claims.
Our campaign is putting pressure on the government – and it is being felt. The work of union campaign hubs has seen many backbenchers express their support for our demands. But we must be prepared to keep campaigning until a fair and decent agreement is achieved.

Together, we achieved important measures during the pandemic. We need to show the same commitment to maintaining pressure on the Premier and the Education Minister to deliver an agreement that deals with significant issues that well pre-date the pandemic.

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