Schools Can CRTs be activists?

CRTs often feel it is difficult to raise issues related to their work and conditions. For some, it’s because they are not aware of what’s permissible; for others, it’s concern about ‘rocking the boat’. These are real fears for members – but we also know that speaking out and standing up are what’s required to make change, or to ensure working conditions are being met. We also know there is a lot of great practice out there, mostly thanks to active sub-branch reps and CRTs who have overcome those hurdles to raise issues directly.

I spoke to three AEU CRT members who are activists to find out what advice they would give to fellow CRTs facing everyday challenges. Margot Vigliotti, a CRT of nine years, says she was “shocked” to discover that CRT conditions were not the same as those for other teachers.   

Because CRTs are employed by school councils or agencies, their conditions arise from Awards, Ministerial Orders and departmental policy, and not from a negotiated enterprise bargaining agreement such as the VGSA, which applies to teachers employed directly by the Department of Education. Margot is among those CRTs actively contributing to getting this changed. “It was the realisation that collectively we were much stronger that gave me the courage to be more active,” she says.

“CRTs’ rights and conditions at work are not always being adhered to by employers. The union is a great way to understand these rights and know that the organisation is there to advise and support you when there is a concern.”

Jacqui’s advice for activists is very succinct: “Ask questions” and “join the union”.

Being able to lean on other AEU CRT members is also important to Jacqui Stanley, a union member for 43 years and CRT for eight. “The ability to share ideas and experiences, find solutions, solidarity, and the ability to give back to a profession and community that has supported you throughout your career” are the primary reasons Jacqui attends regional meetings, which all AEU CRT members are invited to attend.  

During the COVID lockdowns, Jacqui felt “marginalised and penalised” as a CRT. “I reached out to the union via their dedicated CRT members group on Facebook,” she says. There, she could find accurate and reliable advice, as well as a community of CRTs sharing similar experiences. Even when there isn’t a satisfactory solution to an issue, knowing you aren’t alone is a protective factor, Jacqui adds. 

Paul Bevilacqua, who has been a CRT for more than 10 years, and a union member for longer, believes in the power of staying informed, particularly about “the obligations that your employers have to you, such as pay rates, breaks and hours of work”. He also recommends attending regional meetings to get insight into the “broader education jigsaw”. 

Many have an image in their minds of what an activist is. This might be a picture of attending protests or handing out flyers. It might involve meeting with an MP to share your experiences and appeal for more support for public education, for example. 

But an activist can also be a member who becomes well-informed about their rights at work, so that when an issue arises, they understand the employment conditions being discussed. It could mean supporting another member in a meeting or talking to colleagues about the union and urging them to join.  

Sometimes, it’s as simple as approaching the local sub-branch rep, letting them know that you’re a union member and want to be involved, or asking them for support. This is how some CRTs have ensured that casuals get their 30 minutes of uninterrupted lunch. All these actions can help effect change in the workplace and more broadly. 

Jacqui’s advice for activists is very succinct: “Ask questions” and “join the union”. Margot adds that after “learning more about the work of the union, I became more confident with spreading the word around to non-members at work”. Paul echoes these sentiments and adds a recommendation to “speak to your union rep, call the union, speak to other CRTs, and attend a regional meeting”.

The short answer is: yes! CRTs can definitely be activists, and we encourage all CRTs to get involved in union advocacy and campaigning.

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