1990s: The RAIS campaigns
My early years of Union involvement were characterised by ongoing disputation over issues related to country service.
Many policies today are sourced to disputes at this time. Issues like the provision of automatic washing machines, de facto couples being allowed to live together, provision of mowers and other lawn equipment, were all the source of bitter disputation. The issue of de facto couples prompted the then regional director to proclaim: “There will be NO try before you buy on my watch.”
In one now legendary incident, amid protests that twin tub “tangle-lee-magic” washing machines were destroying clothing, the Regional Organiser asked for samples of damaged clothing to be forwarded to his office. A wide selection of damaged apparel arrived, including a disproportionate number of very lacy and very provocative ladies’ smalls. These garments were then produced in great quantity at a particularly heated moment in negotiations. Red faces and much embarassment saw some progress made.
It seems incomprehensible today, but it took a lot of hard work by dozens of key activists and officers before more progressive heads prevailed in this dispute and others.
I was elected President of the Union in 1994 on a platform of, among other things, improving the situation for teachers in rural and remote parts of the state. In 1996 a significant breakthrough was made with the establishment of the Remote Area Incentive Scheme, initially for very remote schools and then later on extended to less remote locations. The overall budget for incentives and compensation was almost quadrupled.
These results were due in no small part to the dedication and commitment of a number of Union officials, the members of key Area Councils, school Representatives and notably activists often in the very early stages of their careers and sometimes under considerable duress from the department.
The scheme rolled up existing benefits, including limited access to travel assistance, to provide a scheme that compensated all service and provided significant additional benefits for extended service. This model remains in place today. Money was also allocated to induction programs for very remote schools. These programs continue to run every December and January. I often meet teachers who say: “Thank goodness for the RAIS induction.”
The promise of greater stability of staffing and more experienced staff in RAIS communities has been delivered, with solid data supporting the effectiveness of the scheme.
It is fair to say the scheme had its critics, especially in that the incentive elements of the scheme were term-limited, and being a broad-banded scheme there were winners and there were centres that in reality won more. The key point of success was that the total package was four times larger.
Today, the issues lie in the inter-relationships between accommodation quality and provision, locality allowance, RAIS payments, the transfer system, the desirability of certain centres and, to cap it all off, in recent years the introduction of alcohol management plans that deny some teachers a hard earned drink at day’s end.
While we acknowledge the work of those who tackled these challenges in the past, the issues of today are very much an extension of this past and require the same tenacity that saw those early wins.
Former QTU President, Life Member
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 119 number 2, 125th Anniversary Special Edition, p36