Editorial: The strength of our Union is you, its members
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No 6, 12 August 2022, page no. 5
Following the decisions of members and State Council to accept the EB10 offer, I have reflected on some of the questions and issues that members have raised in relation to the offer and the process of negotiating an agreement.
Having been a member of the Union for all 10 enterprise bargaining negotiations, and an officer for the last nine, I can honestly say that every EB is different.
The differences are manifold. It can depend on who is in government, where negotiations are within the election cycle, the matters impacting on members at the time, and the priorities established by Council and Executive.
For example, in 2012 the Newman government offered QTU members 2.7 per cent p.a. (in contrast to the 3 per cent increase offered to the nurses in the same year). However, it was accompanied by attacks on members’ rights at work, which started with multiple changes to the Industrial Relations Act and a claim through which the government sought to remove matters such as class sizes, administration time, specialist conditions and school-based management guarantees from the agreement, as well as place school leaders on contract. QTU members campaigned to retain their hard-won working conditions. Once these were secured, members accepted the offer by the then government.
Conversely, the last EB had two main focusses – the implementation of the Promotional Positions Classification Review and workload. The government’s offer included a 2.5 per cent headline increase, but also built in an additional step for experienced senior teachers, the Principles of Good Workload Management, additional non-contact time and a classification scale restructure for heads of program and school leaders, which resulted in these classifications receiving an overall increase across the life of the agreement of between 10 and 17 per cent (depending on the classification at the time).
During both EBs, there were members who were dissatisfied. During both of these negotiations, members were of the view that industrial action was necessary and expressed anger when, once a ballot for industrial action was conducted, the Union Executive and/or Conference determined not to proceed with the action.
This EB, rather than balloting for industrial action in the lead up to any offer by the government, State Council determined to establish the core priorities for negotiations and ballot for industrial action if any government offer was insufficient to meet these priorities. Despite following this strategy, some members continued to express a view that industrial action is the only way to show the strength of the Union and achieve outcomes in EB negotiations.
Plainly this is not the case.
The strength of any union lies in its members. It lies in the democratic structures of the Union and ensuring that decisions are made by members, for members. It lies in the willingness of members to have their voices heard and the willingness of members to be engaged in all elements of a campaign.
Industrial action comes following a period of campaigning and lobbying to achieve an outcome.
During this EB campaign, members wrote letters to the Premier, attended MP delegations and turned out in numbers on Labour Day. Our presence across every community in Queensland ensured that our communities supported our argument that we deserved “more than praise”. The result is an EB10 offer that members have accepted.
This offer delivers real benefits to QTU members. The core tenets of this EB were to promote and protect our profession by attracting and retaining teachers and school leaders, and it does that. Increases in incentives, as well as the introduction of attraction allowances and incentives, are the first step in recognising that our members are everywhere and deserve compensation for working in the most remote places in the state, as well as in provincial centres. It delivers salaries that are the highest in Australia – something that is important to retaining members.
But it does more than that. Some members have expressed reservations about “yet another review”, but when that review requires us to look at our duties, to look at what we do and whether it is something that you as a teacher or school leader should be doing as a requirement of your role, then that is a conversation we absolutely need to be a part of.
Mapping exactly what teachers and school leaders are currently required to do is a crucial early step in the review of duties and responsibilities, therefore identifying the workload creep that has happened in recent years. Without that detailed mapping, it’s impossible to establish what workload can be reasonably and permanently removed.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be necessary. Teachers, heads of program and school leaders need to be prepared to do things differently. The department needs to resource schools differently to support this if we are going to truly regain respect for our profession, attract new teachers and keep experienced ones.
Ultimately, what this EB shows us is that there is a time and place for everything – sometimes we will rally; other times we will strike; and other times we will engage politically – the effect of these strategies depends on one thing – the members of the Union.
If we have a Union membership that is united in attempting to achieve the best working conditions and salaries for each other, then we truly are mighty.