It has been a tumultuous couple of years for all school staff, but Casual Relief Teachers (CRTs) have faced particular challenges due to rolling lockdowns. Anne Mushet, a committed member of the AEU’s CRT group, only received two weeks of work during last year’s extended lockdown, going into a school to help with remote learning set-ups. She also struggled to recoup compensation pay she was owed for lost work from other schools. “I had a bit of a battle,” she says. “Two schools took six weeks to pay me, another took six months.”
A member of the CRT executive group, Anne engaged the AEU to help claim the missing payments, but suspects that had a knock-on effect. Those schools have not re-engaged her this year. While she was able to access JobSeeker, that has now been cut off by the federal government. In 40 years of teaching, on and off, she says the last year or so has been the toughest stretch. “You just feel like you are the lowest of the low.”
That’s why I found and joined the CRT executive group, and why I encourage everyone to join the union.
It used to be that she could go into a school, hand over her resume and pick up work locally. These days, schools increasingly turn to agencies that take a big cut of CRT pay packets. “I was at an agency that was taking $72 a day, and another that was taking $60,” Anne notes. “I ended up quitting both, but it’s really hard to get a job directly. Schools rely on agencies too much.”
She has been lucky enough to secure more CRT work in the last few weeks. “I felt more supported in the two schools that employed me casually than I do with an agency like Anzuk Education.”
Anne feels it’s important to support a better deal for the next generation for CRTs. “That’s why I found and joined the CRT executive group, and why I encourage everyone to join the union,” she says. “If, in five years time, we can make things better for new CRTs – if I can help – then I’m happy to do that.”
The AEU has been my main source of resources. They have networks, and were able to advise me on the basic conditions. They really helped me get started again.
Paul Bevilacqua returned to CRT work six years ago after a break. He had a very different experience during last year’s extended lockdown, with Clifton Hill Primary School supporting him, without asking, to access a government program that secured 80% of his 2019 pay.
He has subsequently helped with on-site learning during each lockdown. “I’m one of the lucky people,” he says. “Clifton Hill has been incredibly supportive.”
They had a sizeable cohort of on-site students. “I became quickly adept at it. I was doing the face-to-face teaching. I wasn’t having to try to do things via WebEx. And we had all sorts of changing circumstances, with all the hygiene rules to follow and trying to keep up with the classes at home. It became its own little community, and it was fantastic.”
Paul shares Anne’s concerns about CRTs who are increasingly pushed into agency work, several of which did not support workers to access JobSeeker. “I have friends whose agencies didn’t bother to apply for it. We’ve got CRTs this calendar year who would have lost access to 25% of their employment. And they’re the ones that are really looking at it and asking, ‘OK, well, do I continue down the CRT path, or should I look at doing something else?’”
With international travellers still largely locked out of Australia, Paul believes there will be more opportunities for graduate CRTs. But, as Anne raises, less experienced teachers are often faced with higher upfront deductions by agencies.
Paul says the AEU plays an important role in safeguarding the rights of CRT members. “The AEU has been my main source of resources,” he says. “The department didn’t have any refresher programs, and then I found one through the union. They have networks, and were able to advise me on the basic work conditions, rates of pay, hours and so forth. They really helped me to get started again.”