Term 4, 2015

In this issue: Flexible student free days | work/life balance and permanent part-time work | temporary (contract) teachers and parental leave | the status of the federal paid parental leave scheme. 

In this Women’s e-News, the focus is on knowing our working conditions. It is difficult to access working conditions if we are not aware of what we are entitled to. Term 4 is a good time to be looking forward and planning ahead. For teachers, signaling particular needs in a timely way can certainly assist school administrators in planning for flexibility.

Permanent part-time employees, employment rosters and the flexible student free days at Easter...

As you would be aware, there are three flexible student free days at Easter. This structure has been in place for some time. Some part-time employees and administrators are not aware that the number of flexible SFDs a teacher may be required to attend (or the amount of rostered duty time a permanent part-time employee may need to make up) is different, depending on the teacher’s particular rostered days. The department’s FAQ advice states:

What Staff Professional Development Days are permanent part-time teachers required to attend?

All permanent part-time teachers will be paid for the final two Staff Professional Development Days during the Easter holiday. If schools conduct professional development on these days, then permanent part-time teachers will be required to attend these Staff Professional Development Days, or alternatively, dedicated professional development otherwise agreed within the school community under flexible arrangements for a total of 10 hours. (Note: Schools tend to move these hours so it is important to note that at a minimum permanent part-time teachers must undertake 10 hours of flexible student free day hours.)

Only those permanent part-time teachers rostered to work on the first Easter holiday Staff Professional Development Day (Wednesday 6/4) will be paid for this day. These teachers will have to attend the three Staff Professional Development Days or 15 hours of flexible professional development.

A clear example of how this works would be a .2 permanent part time teacher, whose roster has her working Wednesday. This teacher would have to attend all three student free days at Easter, or if the days are converted into flexible hours, would have to undertake 15 hours of flexible professional development. Whereas a teacher who was working .8 who did not work Wednesdays would only have to attend the Thursday and Friday at Easter or only undertake 10 hours of flexible professional development. If the .8 teacher undertook to participate in the 15 hours, she would need to be aware that she would only be paid for 10 hours. 

School principals, deputy principals and permanent part-time teachers need to be aware of this anomaly and proactively plan for it when identifying which days permanent part-time teachers need to attend at Easter or how many hours of flexible professional development they need to undertake to meet their obligation.

The conditions can be similar for some temporary (contract) teachers but it would be depend on their employment pattern, so clarification may need to be sought from the QTU.

Family-friendly flexible student free days (SFDs)...

Hopefully the heading has grabbed your attention. There are three fixed SFDs. The two in late January, at the end of the summer school vacation, and the one in October (Note: IPS schools, through consultation, can make flexible arrangements for the October SFD day).

However, as you should all be aware by now, for 2016 only, there are four flexible student free days due to the additional flexible SFD occurring on Monday 25 January 2016 and the three SFDs that are placed at Easter. For all these flexible student free days, schools can, through active consultation, move the hours that make up these days and place them elsewhere. It is important that you note, when moving these hours, that rostered duty time is five hours. Therefore, because there are four flexible student free days in 2016, it is 20 hours of rostered duty time that could be placed elsewhere (except for permanent part-time teachers who do not work Wednesdays, who will only need to undertake 15 hours. Usually, active consultation with teachers occurs in term three so that the placement of the flexible student free day hours can be signed off ready for term four communication to regions. Many schools had proactively undertaken this consultation but then needed to revisit the arrangements due to the state government’s announcement in term four of the 25 January flexible SFD.

When ensuring arrangements are family friendly, it is important that teachers speak up and actively provide input into the way the 20 hours is allocated. This consultation allows for teachers to then plan childcare and other arrangements. Once decisions are made, specific dates and times should be set as the flexibility is about both the needs of the school and the needs of the employees to plan for and balance their work and family/life commitments.

It is important that teachers understand that active consultation should take place in relation to the placement of the hours of these student free days (consultation is not the presentation of a model at one staff meeting for voting on at that time - consultation allows time for active consideration, reflection, feedback and re-shaping).

It is important to note that the SFDs are for staff professional development, including training mandated by the department like Code of Conduct/Standard of Practice and fire safety training. Such training should occur in rostered duty time and not be shifted to teachers’ discretionary time.

I am aware of a model, where key mandated training was planned for a flexible SFD on Wednesday 21 January 2015. It was also agreed that where a teacher had undertaken the online training in the agreed module, for example Code of Conduct, prior to the Wednesday flexible SFD, they had clearly met their obligation and could go home. Some teachers engaged in the online training over the summer vacation and went home, while other teachers stayed and participated in face-to-face training on that topic in the time allocated. Both groups had met their obligations. Such an approach provides appropriate flexibility and addresses EQ policy on SFDs and mandated training and the requirements of legislation.

While the school leadership team determines the actual program, the consultation from the previous year should clearly identify the specific dates (and times) that the flexible SFD hours will occur on. This is so teachers can plan for their own personal and family commitments. From time to time, a date or length of time may need to change. Again it is important that should such a change need to be made, it occurs through proactive and timely consultation.

When planning for SFDs it is important that thought is given to ensuring that employees can access their rest pause and meal break entitlement. The total amount of time is 55 minutes. So a school could have two 30 minute breaks (which would exceed the minimum by 5 minutes) or a 30 minute and a 25 minute break or a 40 minute and a 15 minute break. At least one of the breaks would need to be at least 30 minutes in length. Note that the 10 minute rest pause is considered rostered duty time, so the actual professional development program should only be 4 hours 50 minutes in length.

For more information on SFDs, please see the links below, particularly conditions for teachers on contract (temporary engagements) and for further clarification contact the Queensland Teachers’ Assist Desk (QTAD) on 1300 11 7823 or at qtad@qtu.asn.au 

Work/life balance and permanent part-time work...

At this time of the year, regular queries and assistance is provided to members, particularly women, trying to navigate part-time requests. It is very important to note that Education Queensland is committed to:

“fostering a supportive workplace culture where our employees are encouraged and assisted to balance work, family and other aspects of personal life”.

Life is busy and work is even busier. Knowing that Education Queensland is committed to developing a culture based on the belief that “providing employees with a variety of flexible work options contributes to building a positive, healthy and productive work environment, supporting employees in achieving work-life balance” can make all the difference.

All permanent employees have the right to ask for (in writing) access to permanent part-time employment and the department’s stated expectation is that all applications will be actively considered and written reasons provided if the permanent part-time arrangement cannot be provided. A written response that states that the request can’t be provided for operational reasons is not sufficient. The actual reasons need to be provided in writing following the department’s advice in relation to ethical decision making.

The department’s policy (procedure) makes the following strong assertion:

The Department of Education, Training and Employment is committed to providing work environments and practices that better support the work–life balance of teachers, including access to part-time employment.

To assist with enabling a workplace culture that is supportive of flexible work arrangements, including access to permanent part-time work, the department’s policy provides guidance to principals when making deliberations in relation to requests for permanent part-time work.

It advises that all applications from teachers to work part-time be considered and that the applications need to be assessed based on the inherent requirements of the position and to take account of the following:

  • What outcomes are required and different ways of achieving them
  • Whether the decision-making process is fair and transparent (and a supporting flow chart is provided to assist)
  • The advantages of a proposal
  • The disadvantages of a proposal and the options available to overcome them.

The last dot point in this advice to principals clearly reinforces that the culture the department is committed to engendering is one of facilitating permanent part-time arrangements and looking for ways to implement that commitment.

At times, a culture develops where the view espoused is that permanent part-time is only really for employees who are caring for children or other family members or are managing their own health. While such requests are given priority, permanent part-time can be approved for a wide range of reasons.

It is worth reiterating that the expected culture within the department is that the task is to genuinely attempt to meet the request based on the inherent requirements of the position and the requirements essential to the operation of the workplace (operations requirements), because Education Queensland is committed to “fostering a supportive workplace culture where our employees are encouraged and assisted to balance work, family and other aspects of personal life”.

And of course, the happy ending is that as schools become more skilled at facilitating permanent part-time flexibility, solutions to overcoming challenges are being implemented every year and therefore becoming part of the growing tapestry of how things are done.

For further information on requesting and accessing permanent part-time work, click on the following links.

Temporary (contract) teachers, parental leave and continuity of service...

A teacher who is employed on a temporary engagement, colloquially referred to as a contract, and who is pregnant needs to be aware of the conditions that they can access given the pattern of their employment and the staffing needs of the school. To be eligible for paid parental leave, temporary teachers and long-term casual teachers need to have met the qualifying period of at least 12 months’ continuous service at least once.

A temporary employee must not have their employment terminated (or not continued) merely because the teacher has applied for, may apply for or has been granted parental/maternity leave.

The QTU has been working with a number of temporary (contract) teachers who have had (for example) 2 ½ years on continuing contracts with EQ and have not been aware of their right to access paid parental leave. For example, if a teacher is teaching year six for three terms but needs to leave in term four to have a baby, and the school would have otherwise continued the contract, then that teacher can access paid parental leave for term four. The school simply continues the teacher in their temporary engagement, the teacher goes on paid parental leave and the vacancy is back filled by a teacher returning from leave or by employing another teacher on a temporary engagement (contract).

It is also worth noting that where a teacher is going to access paid parental leave from a temporary engagement, she can maximise her access to paid parental leave by taking leave before the birth of the child. So based on the term four example, the teacher could start her paid maternity leave in the last four weeks of term three and continue it through to the end of term four.

As a temporary employee, a teacher cannot be granted leave of any kind beyond the date on which the temporary employment terminates. For example, if a teacher has a temporary engagement for term three and term four, is due to give birth the following February, and there is no ongoing temporary engagement (contract), the teacher can only take paid maternity leave up to the last day of the school year.

Where a temporary engagement (contract) would not have been renewed, regardless of the pregnancy, the employment should not be extended solely because the teacher has applied for parental/maternity leave.

Temporary (contract) teachers have been seeking QTU assistance in gaining access to retrospective paid parental leave, where their employment pattern clearly indicates that they had (and would have had) a continuing pattern of employment, with the only interruption being unpaid parental leave. In being able to establish this pattern, the QTU has also been able assist women access the three year conversion to permanency process, as paid leave is recognised as continuing service.

The QTU is having consistent success in assisting teachers gain back pay. While this is important, it is better that women employed on temporary engagements and administrators in schools understand the working conditions and patterns of employment which provide women access to paid parental leave when they are temporary (contract) teachers or long term casuals.

More information:

Federal paid parental leave – still here, but...

Queensland teachers and their families will be left with only their employer-funded 14 weeks’ paid parental leave if the federal government eventually gains the support of the Parliament for its proposal to deny them access to the Commonwealth paid parental leave scheme. At the time of writing, the scheme is still in place, but its days may be numbered.

The Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill, which proposed to cut access to Commonwealth PPL for most of our members and their families, was sent to a Senate Inquiry in September and has not been put back to the Senate for a vote. The view at the moment is that this bill in its current form will not be progressed. However, the cuts to federal PPL were part of a bigger package of proposed Coalition changes to family tax benefits and childcare. The Coalition has announced that it will be putting four new bills to the Parliament in relation to this whole area (one has already been passed through the House), and the view is that cuts to federal PPL will be included in one of the remaining three bills.

It is very important to understand that the present universal PPL scheme, introduced by the previous government in 2011, was specifically and deliberately designed to combine financial contributions from government and employers to meet the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for at least six months’ paid leave in order to enable parents to care for, bond with and exclusively breastfeed their babies in the critical first 26 weeks. This intent is clearly stated in the Federal Paid Parental Leave Act 2010: “the financial support of this act is intended to complement and supplement existing entitlements to paid or unpaid leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child”.

Concluding comments

This Women’s e-News has set out to draw your attention to specific working conditions in a general way. Knowledge is power and shared knowledge grows stronger workplace cultures in relation to ensuring shared understandings of the department’s proactive policies and its legislative and industrial obligations to its employees.

To grow this knowledge and understanding I invite union reps and branch/area council women’s contacts to please share the contents with others and discuss.

Some of the conditions flagged can seem complicated, so please seek clarification or assistance from the QTU by contacting QTAD at qtad@qtu.asn.au or 1300 11 7823

Kevina O'Neill
QTU Women's Officer (Acting) 

LATE UPDATE 25 Nov 2015: The Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today announced Queensland public sector employees experiencing domestic and family violence will now receive greater support within their workplace. Read the media release here...