Sometimes a small adjustment can make work a whole lot smoother. LOUISE SWINN speaks to a couple of AEU reps who, with the help of the VGSA 2022, have implemented positive changes for the benefit of members in their schools.
Frank Camilleri, prep teacher at Sydenham-Hillside Primary School and AEU rep of 15 years, knew that when he heard staff were being asked to attend three meetings a week, this wasn’t in line with the Victorian Government Schools Agreement (VGSA 2022). Frank wrote a letter outlining the issue, spoke to fellow staff, and organised a meeting, which the principal attended.
As a result, the staff now have two meetings per week and time allotted for other duties, which includes communicating with parents and other duties related to School Improvement Teams (SIT) or for welfare roles. The principal joined the union, as did five other staff members, once they understood that it was the VGSA, as negotiated by the union, that had made this difference to their working lives.
Frank says this change has been possible thanks to the positive relationship he has forged with the principal. “He listens to my opinion and there’s a good relationship, with mutual respect,” Frank explains. “He respects the union and wants to do the right thing.”
“You just have to have that open line of communication. I like to be transparent.”
This has not always been Frank’s experience. He has worked with principals in the past who have listened but not acted on requests from the union sub-branch to ensure members’ entitlements. He is grateful that his principal “showed respect for what I had to say and thanked me,” he says. “It was a positive experience.”
Crucially, Frank understands the rights and entitlements contained in the VGSA, and has a straightforward approach to seeing them applied for himself and his colleagues. “You just have to have that open line of communication. I like to be transparent. As a union rep, I am even-handed.”
“I listen to what our principal has to say, I voice what should be happening, and then seek a shared understanding on the matter. The bottom line is having an open line of communication and not being afraid to speak up about the issues.”
It helps that the school’s leadership team, lead teachers, and assistant principals are all union members. “Our win could not have happened without the strong support of our AEU sub-branch, the school principal, and Calvin,” Frank adds, referring to AEU organiser Calvin Tran.
“If you’re taking on those extra responsibilities, you need to be paid accordingly.”
Over at Sunshine Special Developmental School, rep Samantha McGinty has used similar strategies to achieve the successful implementation of the first aid allowance payment to ES staff who are trained in first aid.
“We had a few sub-branch meetings last year and we spoke about it a lot, and I spoke to our principal at the time. We raised it in consultation once the new agreement was in place because it was pretty clear in the VGSA,” Samantha says.
“The principal was very good. She agreed that those doing first aid need to be paid the allowance. If you’re taking on those extra responsibilities, you need to be paid accordingly. It’s about feeling valued, too.”
Acting principal Lisa Murphy is very matter of fact about the issue. “I just think it is absolutely the right thing to do,” she says.
At Sunshine SDS, which won the AEU Sub-branch of the Year award at this year’s annual AEU Reps Conference – and has been going from strength to strength – eligible education support staff were immediately back-paid their first aid allowance.