Conservative commentators love to argue that “funding isn’t everything”, but everyone who works in public education knows the link between the challenges they face and a long-standing lack of resources.
Education is always a busy and contested space – as it should be, given that the work we do as teachers, support staff, and educational leaders in public education is a central pillar of our society and our democracy. It is necessary for the AEU to take political action to further our members’ industrial interests, to fight for adequate funding for the provision of high-quality public education, and to promote a community that believes in equality, justice and fairness for all.
Equity is key to our students’ learning in kindergartens, schools and TAFEs, but also to members’ salaries and working conditions. As branch secretary Erin Aulich says in her From Your Branch Secretary column, the AEU’s strategic plan focuses on improving the working lives of members and supporting members to be active and engaged in achieving improvements through our targeted campaigns. We are also committed to campaigning on a range of social justice issues.
Currently front and centre is the Unions for Yes campaign in the lead up to the 14 October referendum. The Voice to Parliament is about rights and recognition; it is not about politics. The idea for a Voice came directly from First Nations communities, not politicians, and polling shows that over 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people agree with the amendment to the Constitution.
The Australian union movement has a long tradition of standing in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. First Nations members have made it clear, through the federal AEU Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander committee, Yalukit Yulendj, that they want our union to support a ‘Yes’ vote. As our campaign says, “235 years of not listening is not working”. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders deserve a say when government is making decisions about them and their communities.
In the TAFE sector, we have been working with members to achieve a majority support petition, which allows us to pursue a single interest employer agreement (SIEA) across the 12 standalone TAFEs, replacing the current multi-employer agreement (MEA). This would enable members to consider taking protected industrial action – something they cannot currently do. Members have a right to fight together to ensure their work is valued and respected.
Equality, justice and fairness drives everything we do at the AEU.
To achieve a majority support petition, we needed a majority of teachers in each of the 12 TAFEs to sign – which has been no mean feat, especially given the number of teachers now working remotely. But thanks to the tireless efforts of organisers and AEU reps, we did it! We have applied to the Fair Work Commission for a single interest employer authorisation and await their decision. Our campaign will also ramp up the pressure on the Andrews government to fund TAFEs to meet the full cost of delivering courses and supporting its TAFE teachers. You can’t save TAFE if you don’t have a TAFE workforce!
With workforce shortages continuing to have a major impact across the schools sector, intensifying already unsustainable workloads, the launch of the federal school funding campaign could not come at a more important time. Our For Every Child campaign makes it clear that principals, teachers, and support staff in public schools are being asked to do too much with too little. We need a fairer funding model that delivers the money our schools need to meet their students’ educational and welfare needs.
It is a disgrace that Victoria’s public schools only receive 90.4% of the federally agreed schooling resource standard (or SRS) – the minimum amount needed for schools to operate effectively – more than ten years after the Gonski funding reforms were introduced with the aim of creating a fairer education system. While public schools struggle with staff shortages, excessive workloads, and inadequate resources, Australia’s non-government schools have long been funded at 100% or more of the SRS. This is unacceptable.
While some conservative commentators love to argue that “funding isn’t everything”, everyone who works in public education knows first-hand the link between the challenges they face and a lack of resources. It is critical that AEU members join the For Every Child campaign. Funding is not a peripheral issue and the province of political leaders. The financial support our schools receive has a direct impact on the working conditions of staff and the learning conditions of students.
To achieve real change, members need to be active – raise these issues in your communities and maintain pressure on the Andrews and Albanese governments to fund public education so that we can provide the opportunity for every child to reach their potential.