Union members remain a powerful force, locally and across the globe, as we face major professional and political challenges.
This year has continued to throw a lot of challenges at union members – not just in Australia, but across the globe. With the pandemic ongoing, along with increasing challenges related to climate change, our members play a vital role in educating our children and students, who will be the essential workers, inventors, leaders, and activists of the future. Members also play an important role in campaigning for improvements to working conditions across our sectors, shaping the policies that affect all educators, and amplifying our voices on the local and international stage.
In October, I was fortunate enough to attend the Education International Asia Pacific (EIAP) Conference in Cambodia as part of an AEU Federal delegation. The conference theme was: ‘Rebuilding the Asia-Pacific: Educators and their unions at the forefront towards a sustainable future’. We heard that similar challenges are being felt across the region – vastly magnified for members in some countries.
In his welcoming address, the Chairperson of the EIAP regional committee, Masaki Okajima of the Japan Teachers Union, said the pandemic has shown that “online education cannot fully recover the benefits of school education. Schools are crucial to emotional, social, mental and physical development.” He also stressed that teacher wellbeing is directly linked to student wellbeing.
EI general secretary David Edwards told the conference why teachers and students are at the forefront of democratic struggles. “The fight is on. We know this is not simply a crisis for education. It’s a crisis for democracy. … This means identifying institutions working against us. It means leveraging our power to control these institutions, to make these institutions work for our students and for our planet. Teachers have long been out front and in the lead.”
EI president and former AEU federal secretary Susan Hopgood agreed. “We must confidently realise our own powerful presence, our own unique ability to organise, to fight disinformation and all anti-democratic forces.” She also emphasised the need for governments to take “bold action now” to solve the teacher shortage crisis. “All teachers must have decent salaries, recognition, professional autonomy, and quality professional development.”
These are just a few of the ways in which AEU members are looking after each other during tough times.
As AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe pointed out: “Hope is essential to what we do, in our unions, and for our members. And it is very natural for us as teachers, because we have a fundamental belief in a better world – one that our students will go on to create, and one that we hope to shape through them.”
Back in Victoria, the union has been working hard to help those members affected by recent flooding throughout the state. As with previous natural disasters, the union has put together a Member Assistance Package, which includes direct financial assistance and specific workplace advice to members who need it.
For a member who has had their home flooded, an immediate payment of $1,000 is available, as well as access to further support through an interest-free loan. Members who have lost personal possessions due to the flooding of their workplace have access to up to $500 to support the replacement of those items.
There is a $1,000 payment available to sub-branches in flooded schools and TAFE institutes, and for early childhood centres where there is a member, to be used at their discretion to support the workplace or community. The union has also been in regular contact with DET to ensure arrangements for flood-affected schools effectively support members, students and the broader community.
Branch Executive also resolved to provide payments of up to $200 a day for members at Swinburne who were locked out of their workplace without pay for undertaking legal work bans. Overall, the AEU provided $10,200 to members who had income withdrawn due to unreasonable and hostile management actions.
As a result of members’ action, Swinburne management was forced to return to the negotiating table and we have since reached agreement. This is a fantastic example of the power of the collective at the local level, but also why having a strong union enables us to provide that direct support to members in need.
Members should be proud of the work you do every day as well as your contribution to the broader work of the union. The examples here are just a few of the ways in which AEU members are looking after each other during tough times.