Schools Snagging comrades

AEU reps Catherine Barretta (left) and Holly Langdon. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

Craigieburn Secondary College classroom teacher Catherine Barretta has been an AEU member since she signed up as a student. Now the union rep at her sizeable school, she recently found herself with a sub-branch that needed some life breathed into it.

“Last year, a lot of the members in the sub-branch moved on to other schools, so we didn’t have a sub-branch. I was on consultative committee, and I was the only member with an active voice. So, I called our union organiser, Stuart Bracecamp, and he sourced some funding for us to hold a barbeque. And Stuart came along to help get more members on board.”

They signed up a few new members on the day. “Everyone likes a free snag!” Catherine says. “I couldn’t keep carrying the whole thing by myself – I couldn’t host meetings when there was no one coming to the party! I like my role on consultative committee but can’t do much if I don’t have a sub-branch,” she says, laughing.

Catherine has been asking non-member staff what’s holding them back from joining.

“People use the money excuse quite a bit and I immediately try to point out that union fees are tax deductible.

“I’m in my twelfth year teaching and I am struggling. I can only imagine how graduate teachers are going.”

“One of my colleagues, Holly – an ES staff member – came on board. That has made a huge difference. Holly is now a consultative committee rep for ES staff, so she is all over it. She has already had a few wins for ES, so that’s been amazing.”

Having a team working together makes for easier discussions. “Just going in and having those difficult conversations with HR on behalf of ES staff members,” says Catherine.

“For example, they were asked to change their hours at very short notice – which wasn’t acceptable – so we went in on behalf of these ES staff members and said, ‘You can’t do this at late notice because people have lives and plans, and it isn’t fair.’”

Catherine says it is important having different staffing roles represented on the sub-branch, so that they can be across all the relevant issues. “Just to make sure the conversation is going in the right direction and knowing something isn’t being missed. We are there to support and to do the advocacy.”

She still feels new to the role, but AEU reps training has helped.

“I know we never get enough money, but we did the calculation, and our school is missing out on something like $3 million a year. That was shocking.”

“I have done the first half of my reps training, and Holly is going to be doing hers, too. We also now have a WOW [Women’s Officer in the Workplace].”

One issue Catherine and her team are working on is compulsory morning briefings that blow out weekly meeting times. They have put together a group to discuss potential solutions to present to leadership.

“We are hoping they will take on board our options and ideas. We need to push the point that we are all really overworked, and time is so precious, we should only be getting the two hours maximum, so how do leadership want to renegotiate structures in line with protocol?”

Having strong relationships with the leadership team is beneficial. “Leadership responds well. They are all AEU members themselves, and they are open to having the conversation. I really hope to get a win so that I can return to the members and say, ‘We did it!’ And then we can work out the next thing we want to tackle.”

Catherine well understands the enormous workload pressures her colleagues are under, especially given current staff shortages. “I’m in my twelfth year teaching and I am struggling; I can only imagine how graduate teachers are going. The department needs to step in. And the fact that we are not being funded properly doesn’t help.”

Catherine was shocked when she discovered how much more funding her school should be receiving. “I know we never get enough money, but we did the calculation, and our school is missing out on something like $3 million a year. That was shocking.”

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