From the President: QTU Union Reps and their importance in our schools
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 3, 9 April 2021, page no.7
Almost exactly two years ago, I was a Union Rep in a school. So much has happened in the intervening two years that I thought it worthwhile to reflect on the importance of the Union Rep in our schools.
The role of the Union Rep is critical to the success of the Queensland Teachers’ Union and our whole membership.
When I started teaching in 1995, schools had Union Representatives and Women’s Contacts. Since then, the structures of the QTU have changed somewhat. Women’s Contacts have become additional Union Representatives; 70 per cent of our school-based Union Reps are now women. We have increased the allocation of Union Reps in schools, so that there can be a team to share the load. Thankfully, many schools have a full allocation, with other members ready to support and take on additional roles. In other schools, building the support team is ongoing work.
The QTU now has many Lead Union Reps, who can stand in at an area level when needed and support members if the Organiser is unable to attend. In Queensland, dueling commitments and the vast distances that have to be covered by the Organiser means Lead Union Reps get a interesting insight into member support.
We also have Principal Union Reps (PURs). Having principals and school leaders as members of the QTU remains a very important part of our structure. PURs are also geographically attached and liaise with the Organiser. They are also conduits to the Union for information from school leaders and encourage support of Union stances. They are respected in their work as school leaders and Union members. I remember conversations recounted to me of a very influential and respected Principal Union Rep who persuaded their colleagues to hold the line in a campaign, ensuring success.
Later this year, those of you who hold Union Rep positions will receive an invitation to participate in a Union Rep survey. Our last survey was in 2016. A lot has changed in our profession and work in that time. So participation is critical, as the survey will play a very big part in informing the direction that we take in future.
As a Senior Officer, I can tell you that the information produced by the survey is incredibly important. We use it, refer to it, and enact the opinions and thoughts that it provides to us.
When reflecting on the role that Union Reps play, it might be easy to downplay it. But please don’t.
The Union Rep plays a vital role in our schools and for our members. Firstly, the roles of Union Rep, Lead Union Rep, Principal Union Rep are all voluntary. So, in the first instance, we need to thank those who take on these duties. It is important to let them know that they are appreciated, and that we can’t do what we do without them.
They are the people our members look to first when they need support and guidance. On many issues – not limited to playground duty, sick leave, emergent leave, maternity leave, support in meetings, other working conditions – they are the first port of call.
They are seen as the expert, which can be a bit full-on and difficult at times as they can’t possibly know everything about everything. But they are definitely number one in the eyes of many members.
The role is also more nuanced. Active listening, direction and liaison become a special skill of the Union Rep. Beyond that, it’s about being credible and communicating and educating the membership at the school. It was because of engaging, extremely knowledgeable and passionate Union Reps that I became a UR.
Whether you have 30 months’ experience as a Union Rep or 30 years’, it can still be a little bit daunting. But we are here to assist. Union Reps can get support for members via the Queensland Teachers Assist Desk for any situations in which their knowledge has been exhausted, and we also offer training: Union Rep training level one and 2, legal seminars, LCC training (both at an individual and school level), and know your working conditions courses.
There is no way that the QTU would be where it is now without our valued Union Reps.
So our message to those who take on this vital role is simple. We need you. We value you. And, we thank you.