TAFE: The "U" in the QTU says that "U" are the Union!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 4, 28 May 2021, page no.25
In the role of TAFE Organiser, I have been engaging with TAFE branches around the state and listening to the narratives of QTU TAFE members. The undercurrent and tone of disempowerment felt throughout my travels deeply saddened me.
- There are huge gaps in procedural knowledge in some branches around the basic functions of how a branch operates, including:
- duties of branch officials
- branch meeting objectives and outcomes
- writing motions
- Rep activities and members supporting members across teaching disciplines
- Union activity and access to industrial education leave entitlements.
I joined the QTU 19 years ago as a pre-service teacher during my first practicum, studying towards my Bachelor of Adult and Vocational Education. I was warmly accepted into the Alexandra Hills TAFE Branch and throughout the term I observed the activity of the branch. QTU members knew their workplace rights and they worked together collectively, supporting each other in enacting those rights. They campaigned for change together, and they won together. They didn’t need to “call” the Union into the workplace, because they WERE the Union in the workplace. They were advised by officers of the QTU and delegates relayed that advice to members of the branch.
They knew that there was power in the collective. They knew that they were best placed to stand up, speak out and create positive change in their local branch. They understood that “Union” starts with "U". They were the "U" in the QTU.
The TAFE sector in Queensland is still waiting to be rebuilt after the devastation left by Cannonball Newman’s cuts to TAFE staff and funding. This period saw huge numbers of experienced, long-serving TAFE teachers and QTU members taking redundancy packages or retiring early. This massive loss of corporate and vocational training knowledge resulted in an equally devastating loss of knowledge about QTU TAFE branches’ purpose, rules and powers. Although the current government has expressed its commitment to union encouragement and employment security, the losses in vocational training and union activist knowledge are still keenly felt in QTU TAFE branches around the state.
Over the past seven years we have steadily regrown our numbers, but we need to rebuild our belief in ourselves. TAFE members of the QTU have the power to mobilise to be the change we want to see in TAFE.
It starts with "U" and me!
With echoes of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, instead of asking “What can my Union do for me?”, why not ask “What can I do for my Union?”. Unless we work together for change, there is no "U" in Union, just individuals struggling to exist in an unprotected jungle of fear. Working together and sharing knowledge through Union participation and training ultimately gives us great power, protection, productivity and positivity.
Collectively, we can #rebuildwithtafe
How can you be the "U" in the QTU?
- Activate yourself: be aware of your conditions.
- Familiarise yourself with the QTU website, particularly the TAFE members section.
- Update your contact details to ensure you receive Newsflashes and other QTU correspondence.
- Turn up to branch meetings and actively participate.
- Read the QTU Journal.
- Know your Workplace Representative (Rep), health and safety representative (HSR) and local consultative committee (LCC) representative: save their contact details.
- If you are a Rep, check in with other Reps in your workplace and re-engage with QTU TAFE Rep training to refresh your knowledge.
- If you aren’t a Rep, think about becoming one, or how you can help your branch in other ways.
- Educate yourself: Register for training to better inform yourself about your workplace rights and how to get things done in your Union. TAFE teachers are entitled to up to five days of industrial relations education leave per year, in addition to other leave.
- Sign up to the national AEU #rebuildwithtafe campaign.
- Do just one thing to support a fellow member in the workplace.
To learn more about growing your branch and its activism, putting the "U" into your Union, email email@example.com
A case study of member activism
Earlier this year, a QTU TAFE delegate tried to apply for industrial relations education leave but noticed that the code had disappeared from Aurion. They contacted TAFE human resources and was advised that IRE leave would be approved, but it was discretionary leave. Our delegate knew that IRE leave is an award provision and is therefore not discretionary. Recognising the significant implications this could have for members, General Secretary Kate Ruttiman wrote to the CEO of TAFE Queensland, who promptly restored IRE leave as a non-discretionary code.
A case study of democratic activism
QTU TAFE members will soon have the chance to be heard after QTU members raised concerns over professional development with delegates to QTU TAFE Council. The survey arose following TAFE Queensland’s trial of a new curriculum currency points scheme in some regions, tracking professional development. The member survey was open in May, and results are being collated and analysed. A final report will be provided to QTU TAFE Executive for consideration of further campaign actions. Subsequent TAFE Newsflashes will provide further information.