For everyone How to build a thriving union sub-branch at your school

  • By Rachel Power
  • This article was published more than 6 months ago.
  • 5 Dec 2023
Members at Brunswick North Primary have built a strong union culture at their school.

A union is only as strong as the sum of its parts. And one of the most important parts is the union sub-branch. So, here’s our step-by-step guide to building a strong and effective sub-branch at your school.

Unions are all about strength in numbers. More members = better pay and conditions.

The bigger your sub-branch, the greater chance you’ll have of influencing the way your school operates for the benefit of members.

What is a union sub-branch?

Sub-branches are made up of members working collectively at the workplace level.

They are the critical link between the workplace and the central branch of the AEU, and crucial to the effectiveness of the union overall.

Why have an active sub-branch?

Working collectively through your union sub-branch provides the best opportunity to foster a safe, healthy and productive workplace.

It fosters consultation, communication, staff having a say in the way things operate, and being able to contribute to improvements in workplace conditions and staff morale.

Sub-branches are the most important vehicle for ensuring that you and your colleagues are accessing all of the workplace rights and entitlements contained in the Victorian Government Schools Agreement.

They are also the best way of generating member activity and creating a culture of union engagement.

How do you build your sub-branch structure?

Organising members to win big at the workplace level is not something you can do by yourself. Every workplace needs at least two or three members to put up their hands and agree to work together.

Sub-branch representatives share a range of duties, including informing and educating members about union matters and inviting non-members to join.

Once you’ve worked out who’s in, contact your AEU organiser about helping you establish sub-branch meetings, build your ‘executive structure’, recruit more members, and share the load.

Steps to setting up your sub-branch

Organise a sub-branch meeting and invite all the AEU members at your school.

Work out who will chair the meeting and who will take/share minutes.

If you don’t know who the members are, ask your AEU organiser to help and to attend the meeting.

At the meeting, discuss what your various members are good at, interested in, or passionate about – e.g. women’s issues, workplace rights, budgets – then define their roles. Who’s going to be responsibile for what?

Your sub-branch can choose the roles it needs to operate most effectively. Some even create new roles, such as a ‘social organiser’ whose main role might be to bring some food or organise for meetings to be held at the local pub.

Possible roles include:
> President
> Co-president
> Vice president
> Secretary
> Treasurer
> Sub-branch rep
> Education support rep
> Women’s Officer in the Workplace (WOW)

Your sub-branch should select the roles that work for your group’s size and circumstances.

It’s also important to ask: are we representative enough of our staff? Who else do we need? Is there an ES rep? Are there Indigenous staff at our school? Talk to the extra people you need to bring into your sub-branch.

Once up and running, you can solidify your structure and build a plan, term by term.

The main AEU website has a reps-only section with lots of relevant info.

Talk to the team about how often they want to meet.

Are you just catching up for a regular check-in, or are there significant issues to be addressed in your workplace?

And make sure to have a running agenda that is shared prior to each meeting.

Find our guide to running sub-branch meetings here.

The next step is to work out who will be on the school’s consultative committee, which is the forum where staff reps can make recommendations to the school leadership team.

For example, as a school sub-branch, you can make recommendations on how parent–teacher interviews are structured.

Consultative committee representatives will need to canvass and consult members on local workplace matters. Ideally, there should be a teacher and an ES rep.

Consultation is a great way to get better outcomes for members and to raise the profile of the AEU in the workplace.

Also, make sure your workplace has a documented Long Term Plan. Your school’s Long Term Plan sets out how the VGSA2022 will be implemented at your school – it provides details about your working conditions and staffing arrangements.

Click on the links for our sample long-term plans for primary and secondary.

Work out who will attend regional meetings and feed back what they’ve learnt about broader union issues.

They are a great way to hear the latest union news and to get updates on developments that can’t be detailed via email (such as enterprise bargaining).

You can ask questions and get feedback from others about how they are implementing the various conditions of work as set out in the VGSA2022.

It’s also a good way to get to know other AEU members in your local area and share ideas and resources.

Find your nearest upcoming meeting here.

When asked why they haven’t joined the AEU, most potential members say they’ve never been asked!

Some (or most!) of your workmates might not realise that their wages and conditions have been achieved through committed campaigning by you – their unionised colleagues.

Remind them that unions are all about strength in numbers. More members = better pay and conditions.

Collective action is at the core of union values. The more people who get active in your sub-branch, the more powerful you can be.

Your organiser can help you do some ‘workplace mapping’, which helps identify potential members in your workplace. Read more about this here.

Hold an open sub-branch meeting, invite all staff, and follow up with non-members.

If you’re not sure how to go about approaching non-members, here’s our handy guide to recruiting your workmates.

In schools, the VGSA 2022 enshrines your right to participate in the employer’s induction process so employees can be made aware of the role of the union and their right to join, along with and the terms and conditions contained in the VGSA.

Reps can download an excellent induction PowerPoint presentation here.

It’s important to have a visual union presence in the staffroom, and the best way is by providing an AEU noticeboard. This is a great place to post recruitment, training and conference posters – see our staffroom posters.

If you’re after some more union collateral for your noticeboard, contact your AEU organiser. They can supply plenty of union and campaign materials.

The AEU offers a huge range of (mostly free) training, conferences and events to build member skills and knowledge.

We have specific training for AEU reps. It is vital for AEU reps and activists to be well-informed and supported to act collectively on any issues concerning your rights and entitlements at work.

Find out more about reps training here.

AEU Victoria also runs professional training and conferences throughout the year, providing fantastic opportunities for members to learn, network and get more involved in the AEU community.

Click here to view what’s coming up.

The AEU is a campaigning union. We are the key voice for public education and its dedicated workforce.

Our members have a long track record of successful campaigning for better outcomes for themselves, their students, their colleagues and the communities they live in.

Nominate a sub-branch member to keep a regular eye on AEU campaigns and share any relevant news.

Sub-branch reps also get updates on campaigns and how members can get involved through regular AEU Reps Bulletins.

Sub-branches and regions can apply to the AEU for annual ‘structural funding’, which can be used for recruitment activities, refreshments for sub-branch meetings, stationery, or purchasing an AEU banner.

Your application for funding should be in before the end of Term 2 each year. Apply here.

Your sub-branch knows your workplace and your members best. There are plenty of creative ways to engage your colleagues and increase AEU membership numbers and activity.

Remember, AEU organisers are always available to visit your workplace to advise, assist, or just chat about your ideas. We look forward to hearing from you!

Get in touch!

No matter where you are along the path of building your AEU sub-branch, we are here to guide you.

Phone us on (03) 9417 2822 or email us at [email protected] and ask to speak to your AEU organiser. (If you don’t know who that is, just ask!)

We look forward to helping you and your colleagues build a positive union culture at your school.


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