With negotiations for a new Schools Agreement underway, here’s a snapshot of the process that gets us from A to B when advocating for better pay and conditions for members.
What is the VGSA?
The Victorian Government Schools Agreement (VGSA) determines the pay and conditions for principals, assistant principals, teachers, education support staff and paraprofessionals employed in schools by the Department of Education (DET). It covers your face-to-face classroom hours, the number of meetings you attend, your break times, class sizes and everything in between. It also contains clauses on matters such as consultation, union representation and dispute resolution. The current VGSA (2017) expires in April 2021 and the AEU is currently negotiating a new deal with DET.
What is a log of claims?
The log of claims process sets out the matters we advocate for when negotiating a new Agreement on your behalf. Developed through sub-branch submissions and member meetings across the state, it is your opportunity to tell the AEU what you want in your next Schools Agreement. In 2020, more than 3,500 proposed changes were submitted by members. We held 22 meetings attended by almost 800 sub-branch reps to debate and discuss those proposals. Your elected AEU leadership team and the Joint Primary and Secondary Sector Council then voted on the final log of claims, which was presented to DET as our formal position.
How do negotiations work?
Negotiations commence once we have submitted our log and DET initiates or agrees to bargain. DET comes to the table with its own set of proposals and the AEU leadership team advocates for the proposals put forward in our log of claims. Agreement negotiations can be a long and detailed process of give and take. Bargaining is currently underway for a new VGSA, which we have requested to come into effect on 1 May 2021.
Why bargain collectively?
‘United we bargain, divided we beg.’ The right to join a union and bargain collectively are central to our basic labour rights in Australia. Collective bargaining is the primary way for workers to participate in establishing fair wages and conditions. By working together, we have the best chance of evening up the power between the employer and employees. Countries with coordinated collective bargaining through union representation have lower unemployment, better integration of vulnerable groups and less wage inequality.
What happens when the parties can’t agree?
When negotiations break down and the existing Agreement has gone beyond its nominal expiry date, union members can choose to take protected industrial action if authorised by the Fair Work Commission (FWC). This can take various forms, from bans on certain types of work to stop work action. Any industrial action not covered by the FWC order risks financial penalties for members and the union. For the action to be protected, a ballot must be held, at least 50% of eligible union members must vote and, of those, a majority must vote yes.
Why do we need to campaign for a better deal?
Alongside negotiating a new Agreement, the AEU will be running a political campaign to gain public support and put pressure on the Victorian government to improve members’ wages and conditions. This year, we will be lobbying politicians, pursuing media attention and making parents and the broader community aware of the issues – and the solutions. Join your local campaign hub and get involved.
How is an agreement made?
Once an ‘in principle’ Schools Agreement is reached, it needs to be approved by your elected Joint Primary and Secondary Sector Council. The AEU then holds union meetings across the state in which sub-branch members vote for or against the proposed Agreement. If most approve, the employer conducts a ballot of all employees covered by the Agreement. And if a majority vote yes, the agreement is lodged with the FWC for certification – then we have a new Agreement!