Schools Too loud and proud to be ignored

  • By Briley Stokes
  • This article was published more than 2 years ago.
  • 23 Nov 2021

As the pace of the VGSA campaign intensifies, the voices of our ES members are already making a huge difference in our fight for improved pay and conditions.

As part of the campaign for a new and improved Schools Agreement, we asked our ES members to pen their own ‘Dear James’ letter to Education Minister James Merlino, letting him know just what it takes to do the work they love.

The response was outstanding. We received just short of 1,000 passionate and powerful letters stating the case for greater respect for the role of education support staff. We have since delivered them all to Minister Merlino, as well as the 9,000 signatures to the Megaphone petition calling for better recognition of ES work.

Integration aide Benjamin Ward wrote about his experience working with students with a diverse range of needs, including intellectual disabilities and behavioural disorders.

“Regular classrooms are not set up for these students and so my role is to support them,” he wrote.

“I am on the front lines working intimately with them every period of every day. To alter work so they can complete it. To interpret when they do not comprehend. I calm them during tantrums, comfort them when they grieve and limit damage when they are violent. In many circumstances without my presence they would not receive an education.”

Benjamin is a Level 1, Range 1 ES paid $24.04 per hour. “I do this because I care. I want them to succeed,” he explained.

“I want them to rise above and show that their adversity isn’t a sentence to poverty and misery, but merely a challenge to be overcome. I do this because I believe in education and that every child deserves a chance at happiness. Yet I earn less than I did working as an entry level cashier at a supermarket.”

The low wage received for this work is shocking, yet far too common, and our ES members deserve better.
Maria Sartori is employed as a library technician, but goes above and beyond, overseeing every aspect of the library’s operations.

“Without ES, these students would be unable to attend school and receive the high-quality education they deserve.” – Katrina Tenson

“I have 32 classes come through each week, along with the teacher who is responsible for supervision, but the reality is that is also shared. Our school is 12 years old and I have personally built this library from 800 to over 22,000 resources and assisted with the building of classroom libraries.”

Maria is ES Level 1, Range 2, Step 5 earning $33.32 per hour. “My son is 20 years old, working retail, and he earns $30 an hour,” she wrote.

The comparison is stark. Four of our brilliant ES councillors – Trish Harrington, Chris Tricker, Gill Lee and Katrina Tenson – sat down with the minister at the end of last term and conveyed the challenges they face.

Katrina spoke eloquently about her work with some of the state’s most vulnerable students. Work that requires annual training at the Royal Children’s Hospital on a variety of medical intervention procedures to make sure these students can attend school safely.

“Without ES, these students would be unable to attend school and receive the high-quality education they deserve. Often, I was called upon to perform these procedures during my unpaid lunch break, as I was one of the only people trained to do them. For this, I was paid at Level 1, Range 1, $27.93 per hour. Far less than similar jobs outside of public education.”

Minister Merlino was engaged by their testimonials, which covered issues including paid lunch breaks, provision of laptops, and the removal of Range 1, which has been clearly linked to gender inequality issues. He asked many questions, and DET has raised these key issues during our discussions in the negotiating room, which is reassuring.

The AEU has seen an influx of new ES members during our campaign for a new Schools Agreement. Now is the time to stand together and demand a better deal.

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