For everyone From your branch secretary: staying strong together

  • By Erin Aulich
  • This article was published more than 3 years ago.
  • 16 Sep 2020
Erin Aulich, Secretary, AEU Victorian branch

It’s been a Term 3 like no other. Across Victoria, members have been managing a tricky combination of remote learning and face-to-face teaching with many facing tough and stressful times in their sector. No matter which sector you work in, this year has brought huge challenges – from insecure jobs to health and safety concerns – in a very complex environment. All members should be proud of the adaptability and exemplary professionalism you have consistently shown over the past six months.

It’s more important now than ever that the AEU represents all staff working in public education settings: schools, early childhood, TAFE and disability. We’ve had to join together and support one another like never before. The union has been advocating for members at the state government and departmental levels, while helping individuals navigate the many changes the pandemic has made to their personal and working lives.

Since stage 4 restrictions were announced, we’ve received messages of support and solidarity from other branches around the country and across the ditch from our colleagues in New Zealand, wanting AEU Victoria members to know that they are thinking of us.

No matter which sector you work in, this year has brought huge challenges in a very complex environment.

Clearly, workers in public education recognise the AEU’s role in advocating for job security and health and safety in such uncertain times. Over the past six months, the union has seen growth of almost 4% in Victoria and 3% federally. Nationally, the AEU has close to 200,000 members and is experiencing growth in most states and territories. AEU Victoria membership stands at 49,500 at the time of going to print – and I’d like to welcome 5,731 new and returning members who joined up between January and July.

The executive has extended the fee suspension for members employed as casual relief teachers, to help those doing it especially tough in the absence of regular employment. We’ve also been able to support other members experiencing financial hardship.

I’d like to highlight the work of State Schools Relief (SSR) at this time. In May alone, SSR received more than 10,000 applications for assistance; a normal month would see around 4,000 requests. We’re encouraging all sub-branches and regions to consider donating the funds that would normally be earmarked for face-to-face meetings towards helping others in the public education community. A donation to SSR would help them meet the increasing demand from the most disadvantaged families in our community.

We have been supporting disability members with a range of issues, many caused by unscrupulous employers seeking to exploit JobKeeper arrangements – whether directing staff to do work unrelated to their qualifications or by seeking to reduce members’ classification and salaries.

We shouldn’t underestimate the challenges posed by this period of economic turmoil.

Around Australia, other AEU branches have been fighting attacks on existing agreements and future industrial bargaining through wage freezes, wage fixing and proposed wage deferrals. As we continue early childhood negotiations and head into discussions for the next Schools Agreement in Victoria, we shouldn’t underestimate the challenges posed by this period of economic turmoil.

In TAFE, we’re continuing to ensure the agreement is implemented in workplaces and supporting members in managing the challenges of remote learning and assessment for practical subjects. We are also continuing to raise issues with the department regarding arrangements for early childhood, special schools, VCE teachers, and the many challenges facing every sector. Thank you also to those members who have followed up our recommended actions to highlight the OHS risks, the challenges of delivering remote learning, and the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19.

I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary work of reps and school leaders, who have had to play such an important role in their workplaces during this everchanging situation. My thanks also to councillors, regional executive members and all AEU staff for your enormous efforts in recent times.

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