Schools Strength and solidarity

  • By Meredith Peace
  • This article was published more than 2 years ago.
  • 23 Nov 2021

Members are showing their determination as momentum builds in the campaign for a better Schools Agreement.

As I write, we are several weeks into our protected action for the next Victorian Government Schools Agreement (VGSA). This protected action by AEU members builds on the campaign activities you have undertaken throughout 2021, from ‘Wear it Red’ days, to meetings with your local members of parliament, writing to and speaking with education minister James Merlino, attending online Town Hall meetings, sharing your actions on social media, signing petitions, providing survey information, and so much more.

While all these actions have gained the attention of the Department and the Andrews government, it is definitely time to show them how serious we are about making sure the next VGSA addresses our significant workload concerns.

This campaign also provides another opportunity to present our concerns to the broader community. AEU members may have seen recent newspaper, TV and radio interviews outlining the issues and explaining the reasons for our action.

Workload has been a significant issue for our members for many years, and COVID-19 has both added to and amplified the expectations placed on staff in schools. We cannot reach an acceptable agreement without those workload pressures being addressed through genuine and sustained measures – for education support staff, teachers and school leaders.

The most effective industrial action builds momentum. Even the simple act of voting for protected action sends a strong message. That is why the 97% ‘yes’ vote was significant; and, again, I want to thank our members for participating in the ballot. The impressive turnout shows your determination and your solidarity.

The VGSA is negotiated every four years. Industrial action is never the same, because negotiations are never the same. When taking action, we need to consider the context of negotiations, and the shadow of a disruption as enormous as a global pandemic is different again.

In the last round of negotiations back in 2017, just applying to the Fair Work Commission for a Protected Action Ballot (PABO) prompted serious offers from the employer. Not long after the PABO application, an agreement was reached.

I especially want to welcome the almost 1,000 new members who have joined the AEU recently, and those of you who are taking action for the first time.

In 2012–13, during the Baillieu/Napthine Liberal government, we were battling the proposal of performance pay and deep cuts to many sections of the public service. After a long campaign, negotiations stopped completely, resulting in further significant industrial action, including stopwork meetings and bans on report writing, camps, excursions and out of hours activities.

This time, as negotiations continue, our early protected bans have been to ban one hour of meetings and responding to DET emails, and not to participate in the new FISO 2.0 policy. We are building on these actions with bans on ES work during lunch breaks, bans on NAPLAN Online School Readiness Testing and on Victorian Labor State Government MPs visiting schools. These may seem like small steps, but they put pressure on the Andrews government and show them that our members mean business, and I thank you all for your participation.

You are joining many thousands of AEU schools members – education support staff, teachers, assistant principals and principals – in sending a strong message to the government that something’s got to give, and we won’t cease our campaigning until there’s a reasonable offer on the table.

I especially want to welcome the almost 1,000 new members who have joined the AEU recently, and those of you who are taking action for the first time.

For the most part, we are still running our regular union meetings online. While the AEU leadership team and organisers would love to join you face to face, the online format does allow for greater access. My thanks to those members who take the time to attend regional meetings and encourage others to come along.

AEU organisers are also enjoying taking part in school sub-branch meetings, online and in person, to provide further information about VGSA negotiations and other matters.

Agreement negotiations have a habit of proceeding slowly – until they switch into a sprint! Because the situation can change quickly, our weekly e-bulletins and posts on AEU Victoria’s social media platforms offer the best ways to keep up to date on VGSA campaign information.

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