For everyone From your president: Working together

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace

This year has kicked off with significant professional and industrial challenges, which the union is working on with members. Amid these difficulties, wonderful things continue to happen in public education – many of them driven by AEU members. From members’ participation in the annual Pride march, and school productions focusing on First Nations culture, to the work of special schools, collaboration within ES networks, and disability members standing up for a fair deal.

It shows, yet again, why the work you do is so invaluable – responding to the wide-ranging needs of students despite the impact of the pandemic, high workloads, workforce shortages, inadequate funding, and the toll this can take on your own health and wellbeing. We should be immensely proud of the quality of the education that AEU members deliver, across all our sectors.

Working collegiately and forging productive relationships with colleagues, students, parents/carers and the broader community is central to the work you do. As teachers, educators and leaders, we know that students feeling safe and supported in their educational setting is critical for learning. These elements are equally crucial in our approach as union members and leaders – working collectively and developing strong relationships with our colleagues. For the union more broadly, it means working with employers, the Department of Education, and political leaders, to find solutions to the issues we face, while promoting our members’ right to feel valued and supported in the workplace. Just as in our work with students, achieving the broader change we strive for takes hard work and commitment.

AEU members will again be engaged in critical campaigns this year, covering the full gamut of professional, industrial and social issues where we want to drive vital change. As we’ve communicated with members, the AEU is actively supporting the ACTU ‘Unions for Yes’ campaign, to give First Nations peoples a Voice to Parliament and proper recognition in Australia’s Constitution.

Workforce shortages have been a prominent issue in Term 1, with some schools unable to fill vacant teacher and ES positions. The extra workload associated with ensuring that our schools are appropriately staffed – filling gaps so that programs are in place for students – has taken a toll on existing staff, particularly school leaders. This is also an issue in TAFEs, which are struggling to find the teaching staff they need due to the expansion of fee-free TAFE and Australia’s need for more skilled workers. The expansion of early childhood education programs for three and four-year-olds will also require thousands of additional teachers and educators over the coming decade.

Just as in our work with students, achieving the change we strive for takes hard work and commitment.

We will continue to pressure governments to fund strategies to address shortages and provide the supply needed without undermining current qualifications and standards, and retain existing staff. Central to all of these issues is appropriate and fair funding for public education.

At the recent AEU Federal Conference, delegates committed to maintaining our funding campaigns in schools, TAFE, early childhood, and disability. Victoria’s public schools still fall well short on the funding standard set by the federal government, only receiving 90% of this minimum standard, while all private schools are funded to 100% or more. As schools members know all too well, too many students cannot get the level of support they need because schools don’t have the necessary resources.

Whilst we secured strong commitments from both the Andrews and Albanese governments to get public schools to 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard, it is high time these promises were realised, or they risk being nothing more than rhetoric.

The Andrews government has increased investment in TAFE – however, we remain the lowest funded state per hour of VET delivery: $4.25 below the national average. If the government is genuine about responding to skills shortages, they must ensure TAFEs are funded to cover the full cost of course delivery.

When campaigning, the most effective way to gain improvements and solve the challenges that members face in their workplaces every day is to work together. That’s why being an AEU member is so important.

The work you do is complex, exciting, and often challenging. It can be both exhilarating and demoralising, and it can give you a great sense of achievement – but, most importantly, we know it makes a difference to the lives of the people we educate.

To support and improve the working lives of members and have a say on the big issues affecting our profession, we must act collectively. That’s why all educators need to be in the union – to be a part of a community where members stand side by side with their colleagues in their workplaces and across the state, and the nation, to campaign for our profession and achieve the positive change we want to see.

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