Union work continues full steam ahead amid a busy term for everyone involved in public education across Victoria. The day before we celebrated Public Education Day on 25 May, the Andrews government released a disappointing budget for our sectors. Despite experiencing the worst teacher shortage in living memory, funding for Victoria’s public schools received a cut in real terms, while financial support for the non-government sector increased. Funding for TAFEs also failed to improve – meaning our TAFEs are still not funded to meet the full cost of course delivery.
Ensuring that all students have access to a qualified teacher in their classroom is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government. With schools and TAFEs struggling to fill thousands of vacancies across the state, it was regrettable that the Andrews government did nothing to address the workforce crisis.
On the upside, it was good to see the Premier allocate a further $3 billion towards the expansion of the Free Kinder program for three and four-year olds in Victoria.
It was also pleasing to see the government bring forward its commitment to end the logging of old-growth forests in Victoria six years earlier than planned. Heralded as a “monumental win” by sustainability groups, the budget included an extra $200 million as part of a $875m transition support package for affected workers.
Through the union, we can bring about the kind of generational change that alters the course of history.
Education did not feature prominently in this year’s federal budget, either. However, there was $40m for schools in Central Australia – which cater for some of Australia’s most disadvantaged students – allowing them to finally reach 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). We will continue to hold the government to its pre-election commitment of ensuring that every public school in Australia receives 100% of the SRS, sooner rather than later.
Alongside funding, we are maintaining our push for solutions to staffing shortages. Our Ten-Year Plan for Staffing in Public Education contains multiple recommendations, including retention payments for existing staff and paid placements for pre-service teachers. We know the current situation is unsustainable, with members experiencing burnout across our sectors. With this in mind, we are also advocating for proper adherence to time in lieu provisions.
The AEU continues its advocacy across a range of other issues, too, including Victoria’s current school cleaning review. We hear so many terrible stories about the wages and conditions of school cleaners employed by for-profit and labour-hire companies. Our recommendations will be twofold: ways to ensure that schools receive high-quality cleaning; and ways to ensure cleaning staff get the conditions and wages they deserve.
Along with the broader Australian union movement, we are also actively supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for the ancient sovereignty of Indigenous Australians to be recognised through structural reform, including constitutional change, as the first step towards Treaty and Truth. It will start to deliver long overdue justice – and justice has always been union business. We encourage all members to get involved as we move closer to a referendum.
When joining a union, workers are uniting to act together on issues in the workplace and more broadly. When you join the AEU, you become part of an extraordinary group of people who care about making things better – for themselves, their colleagues, their students, and for public education as a whole. Through the union, we can act collectively to bring about the kind of generational change that can alter the course of history.
Without the AEU, educators would struggle to access the help they need – from advice on professional and industrial issues, to legal representation. By joining the union, every member gains access to that support. Ultimately, when we increase our numbers, we improve our capacity to make changes, big and small.