Our best advice on your most common – and uncommon – concerns for Term 1, 2021
Q. I don’t think I could go through another year like last year. How can I make my work life more manageable in 2021?
A. Look after your health first and foremost. And don’t be afraid to talk to other teachers and ES staff in your team. Chances are they will be feeling similarly stressed. If you have any particular concerns, raise these with your AEU representatives and at union sub-branch meetings. Often, educators push through because they are not ‘physically’ unwell. Remember that you can access your sick leave during stressful times as you would for any other illness. Talk to your doctor about any necessary adjustments to your work that would help you cope. Get a supporting letter from your doctor and apply to your principal, who will be guided by the DET policy on reasonable adjustments.
DET also has an Employee Assistance Program, offering up to four free counselling sessions: 1300 361 008. And if you need further support, don’t hesitate to contact us for confidential advice.
Q. My face-to-face teaching load is 25 periods a week. Does this fit with the Schools Agreement, and how do extras work in secondary?
A. Different schools have different period lengths, but face-to-face teaching in a secondary school must not exceed 1200 minutes or 20 hours per week. In primary, the maximum is 22.5 hours. Extras are included in face-to-face hours, and there is an extras formula to limit how many extras you can receive in a year. Replacement classes and home groups are also included in your face-to-face total.
The 30+8 model describes how teaching and all your other duties should be composed to make up your working week. If you think your face-to-face teaching load is not in line with the Schools Agreement (VGSA), approach the AEU rep in your school for support or contact the MSC.
Q. The year has just started and my workload already feels out of control. What can I do?
A. Firstly, remember that a full-time employee is only paid for 38 hours per week and the duties allocated to you should be achievable in those hours. If you feel that your workload is starting to get out of control, or you have been allocated duties that are just not achievable in your hours, raise this issue with your sub-branch. Other members may feel the same and the collective membership could raise the issue with your school’s leadership. If you do not feel comfortable raising the issue of workload with others, we can provide strategies to help address the problem.
Q. I am an ES who worked from home and on-site in 2020. Can this flexible work arrangement continue?
A. There is an expectation that all school staff work on-site – but, if you fall into a high-risk category, you can request to work from home or access personal leave. The current Return to School Operations Guide sets out the criteria for vulnerable workers.
If you do not fit into a high-risk category, you can still request a flexible working arrangement. However, each situation is different, and we would need to discuss your circumstances in more detail to provide specific advice. Get in touch with the MSC and we’ll be happy to help.
Q. I’ve worked hard to create a safe and inclusive school, but have still been subject to violent behaviour from some students and carers. Where should principals turn when they are victims of occupational violence?
A. Nobody should experience injury due to violence at work. AEU principals have been working collectively and proactively to ensure that school leaders who experience OV injuries are supported by their employer. For example, Principal Class Health and Safety Committees now exist for principals in two DET areas (NEMA and Southern Melbourne) and all specialist schools. A further two DET areas are looking to establish a Health and Safety Committee this year. All employees are protected by the OHS Act 2004, and principals – either through their Principal Class Health and Safety Representative or through their school-based HSR – can insist that DET provide appropriate protections against injury. AEU OHS organisers are also available to support principals to achieve a safe and sustainable resolution.
Q. Principals effectively had no holidays in 2020, as we dealt with an unprecedented and ever-changing situation. What is being done to support principals in 2021 and enable them to recover?
A. The AEU is well aware of the intense workload undertaken by school leaders during the COVID crisis. We will continue to support principals and to work with your elected HSRs to improve workload, conditions and wellbeing through advocacy with DET.
DET’s Principal Health and Wellbeing Strategy provides an integrated framework of support to promote and sustain principals’ health and wellbeing. Key factors include up to 15 hours of dedicated case management support, psychological service sessions, physiotherapy, dietetics, exercise physiology and advice about other services available within the department to improve health and wellbeing.
Q. I am an educator who has worked in early childhood for eight years. During that time, I have worked for three different employers, including my current for just over one year. Am I able to access long service leave now this entitlement is portable?
A. Long service leave (LSL) portability in the early childhood sector came into effect on 1 January 2020. Unfortunately, any service you may have had in the industry prior to that date with other employers will not be considered as part of LSL accrual. Your payroll or HR officer should provide employees with details of accrued leave entitlements on request and this can be forwarded to the MSC for further consideration if necessary. Unfortunately, though, you will have to wait another six years before you will be able to access LSL.
Q. I am a teacher in a one-room, committee-run kinder in metro Melbourne. Last year was the most stressful, personally and professionally, of my life – and I haven’t really recovered. If this anxiety persists, what should I do?
A. Many large employers in the early childhood industry (clusters, councils, large ELCs) provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for their employees. Under the new VECTEA and EEEA, EAPs will be available to all teachers and educators employed under these agreements, including those smaller employers who have previously not provided them. If this is not enough, call us to discuss various leave options or, if needed, your eligibility for Workcover.
Q. As an ES in a special school, I work in close physical proximity to students and continue to worry about my health and safety. We followed a COVIDSafe plan in 2020. Now that restrictions have eased, what are our OHS rights?
A. Schools must continue to update and follow a COVID Safety Management Plan and the Schools Operation Guide. Both documents address issues such as physical distancing, use of personal protective equipment, and mental health and wellbeing. You can raise any concerns regarding workplace health and safety with your AEU sub-branch representative or HSR.
Q. How should I and other TAFE HSRs continue to navigate this new ‘COVID normal’ and ensure the safety of our colleagues, students and the community?
A. The pandemic has taken us into unchartered territory. However, taking action under the OHS Act always makes a difference in delivering a safer workplace. The best OHS decisions will come from the on-the-ground knowledge you provide for your TAFE institute. The AEU can also provide expert advice and guidance to assist you and your colleagues to ensure you all have a safe workplace. Call the MSC to discuss the next steps.
Q. I’m a TAFE teacher who’s had to shift between working from home and on-site during COVID. How do I ensure that the TAFE Agreement is maintained, especially when it comes to workplans and workloads?
A. A sustainable workload, adequate preparation and, most of all, our health and wellbeing are paramount. Whether we are working from home or on-site, the attendance requirements remain as per the TAFE Agreement: you are required to attend work for up to 30 hours per week (pro rata for part time) for up to 42 weeks per year. This is best achieved by ensuring all mandatory workplans are completed by 1 March each year.