Schools Reading the fine print

  • By Louise Swinn
  • This article was published more than 1 year ago.
  • 4 Apr 2022

Ana Levett is a classroom-based education support staff member at Melton Specialist School, where she has worked for the past 13 years.

Melton Specialist School meets the needs of a wide variety of students, including several in wheelchairs, requiring 179 hoist lifts a day. With staff so busy, it is a challenge getting everyone on board with union business. But Ana, who joined the union in her second year working at the school, has a thirst for knowledge and an eagerness to pass it onto as many of her colleagues as possible.

“I look at my pay slip,” Ana says, “and I want to understand it. I want to understand awards and know my rights.” 

When the previous AEU rep went on long service leave, colleagues started coming to Ana with questions. She officially took up the role in the auspicious month of March 2020. Since then, she has recruited 26 new members at her school.

Ana takes the union role seriously. “I wear red every day – completely, or just one or two things. I have red shoes and red boots. My AEU badge. 

“When we could have meetings, I made raffle ticket prizes and put on coffee and tea. To COVID-safe it all, I packaged things up individually. I made AEU stickers and put them on the packs, and used a red AEU raincoat as a tablecloth.”

If that wasn’t enough, all new members receive a “union show bag” from Ana, with a membership certificate, an AEU pen and lanyard holder, stickers, and shopping trolley token or key ring. Ana knows her audience – there are a lot of young graduates at her school, and her job has begun with building awareness. 

“I’m really one to speak for other people. I believe in justice, and I hate injustice and favouritism.”

“I have a background in human resources, so I know what to look for. The first thing I questioned was back in 2017 when they made the Grand Final public holiday but that wasn’t an entitlement for our staff and I questioned that.”

She convinced school leadership to recognise the day. “I’m proactive, and I challenged them.”

Ana had worked in HR for building manufacturer CSR, so she knew the language of industrial agreements. “I’d had to deal with a lot of unions then, so I have a feel for awards. You’d be surprised how many people don’t understand leave entitlements or don’t look at their pay slip!”

She also has a good rapport with her colleagues, “so they believed what I was talking about”.

“I’m really one to speak for other people. I believe in justice, and I hate injustice and favouritism.” So, when the rep role became available, she knew she was well placed to take on the role. “I slowly built a good team around me. The previous secretary was on WorkCover and there were no reps to do a handover or transition.”

Not only did Ana become a rep just as the pandemic was starting to take hold, she was also thrown straight into developing her sub-branch’s log of claims submission. “I had the Log of Claims to do, so I hit the ground running, and then we hit lockdown.”

Recruitment and awareness-raising has not all been easy. “The consultative committee arrangements didn’t work at first. It was such a battle,” she says.

But it worked out in the end, in no small part because Ana’s colleagues know they have her support. “Non-members come to me too. I answer their questions – and then they become members!”

Ana didn’t grow up with much union awareness as her father was a businessman. But he did teach her to always read the fine print.

Now, her colleagues know she is well-informed, prepared to question things and to speak up for them when needed. As Ana says, “Knowledge gives people the power.”

And another thing…

The most important things I take into the classroom every day are… My keys, lunchbox, a positive attitude and a happy face.

The most important things to leave at home are… My Stand-Up Paddle Board and stereo.

The best advice I ever received was… Control the ‘controllables’.

My top piece of advice to someone starting out in education would be… Learn about your pay and conditions – and join the union.

My favourite teacher at school was… Ms Clarke, my drama teacher.

The people I admire most are… Those who respectfully take control of their own destiny, including my yoga teacher.

The music or book that changed my life was… Most Aussie bands of the 80s, and two books: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape.

In my other life, I am… (Secretly) a guardian angel with blue blood, hahahaha.

If I met the state education minister, I’d tell him… (As I have posted on James Merlino’s Facebook page): It’s terrific to see the achievements made in a difficult and trying year. Your teachers must be so proud of you, and let’s not forget the hard work and endless unpaid hours your teachers put in. Mr Merlino, it is time to appreciate the diversity of work and hours ES staff do as well. It’s time to address workloads; 41% of teachers often think about leaving their profession. The advertising for recruiting new teachers won’t work if you can’t keep the ones you have. You will lose a lot of experienced teachers and ES.

The most important thing the union does for its members is… Negotiate better pay and conditions, give support and advice.

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