Unions 101 – A “how to” guide for beginners

KBates.gifAs an organisation of 44000 teachers and school leaders, the QTU has developed a comprehensive democratic decision making process over its 123 year history. Queensland politicians would do well to emulate that which they so quickly denigrate.

With the current enterprise bargaining negotiations being the seventh in the series that commenced with EB1 in 1994, union members have become very familiar with the process. A full timeline of the events of the current EB7 negotiations can be viewed here.

At the core of teacher concerns in EB7 negotiations is the Government’s demand that teachers surrender into employer policy 18 years of accumulated working conditions in return for a salary increase of 2.7% per annum. The message to the Government on this issue could not be clearer: working conditions = learning conditions. They are worth too much to lose.

Industrial action is never the first choice for teachers. Negotiations for a new certified agreement will continue while the protected industrial action ballot is being conducted. As always, the goal is to reach agreement through these negotiations without the need to take industrial action but it is an option that we cannot afford to forego, particularly in the current political context.

Through experience, QTU members are familiar with the democratic processes required before undertaking industrial action. QTU members decide if and when industrial action will be taken. They do so by voting in a secret ballot. Historically the QTU has successfully conducted its own ballots for industrial action. However, changes to industrial relations laws rushed through the Parliament in the first weeks of the Newman Government now require ballots for protected industrial action to be conducted by postal ballot through the offices of the Queensland Electoral Commission (ECQ). It is anticipated that the ballot process to authorise industrial action by QTU members will take until the end of September to complete and if industrial action is approved, such action could not commence until 8 October 2012.

QTU members were advised of this process by Newsflash 8/12 emailed on 27 July. The formal notice of the ballot from the ECQ is posted to the QTU website here. This notice was also emailed to all teachers employed by Education Queensland by the employer.

The reason for the media attention on this issue on the weekend (4/5 August) was more to do with an announcement by the Queensland Council of Unions of a state-wide campaign of industrial action to protest the job cuts being perpetrated on the public sector in Queensland, than impending action by QTU members.

Industrial action being considered by QTU members includes bans, limitations and 24 hour stoppages. It is not just strike action as is often portrayed in the media for the purposes of sensational headlines.

One other feature of the media coverage that indirectly cast a shadow on the QTU, was the allegation by the Premier that union leaders were directing members to take industrial action and lose pay when they themselves would not. To be clear, QTU members will decide for themselves if and when they take industrial action and what form that action will take. All QTU officers are members of our union. Although they work on a day of strike action (organising meetings of members and dealing with media), QTU Officers are in fact on strike and forego pay on that day just like everyone else. Happily their pay goes back to the Union.

The current public debate on this and many other issues is polarised. The Newman Government unwisely promotes these divisions in the community rather than showing leadership to heal them. The Premier would do well to come away from his fortress of solitude in George Street and engage with real people rather than sniping through the media about issues that are of his making.

Kevin Bates
6 August 2012