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Home > About > History


Topics : History

The pre-formation years

In 1915 the Labor Government of T.J. Ryan came to power in Queensland with a strong reform agenda and they did achieve considerable changes – especially in relation to the rights of employees.

The Industrial Arbitration Act of 1916 introduced a conciliation and arbitration system with the judicial determination of wages through court awards and the impartial decision on disputes. The Act created a policing mechanism for awards by giving union officials the right to enter workplaces to interview employees and inspect employers’ time and wages books. It also protected workers from being dismissed for union activity.

By 1917 the Great War (WWI) was in its third year and there was no sign of its ending. Teachers’ conditions continued to decline. The Queensland Teachers' Union had gained registration in May 1917 and an Award which prescribed minimum employment conditions was achieved six months later.

The early years

The first iterations of our union, the Queensland Assistant Masters’ Association and the Queensland Assistant Mistresses’ Association, were born and entered the industrial world in the early twentieth century: The Masters in 1919 and the Mistresses in 1920. 

In the 1930s Ruth George played the major role in re-establishing the universal award covering non-government assistant mistresses. During the depression, assistant school mistresses had been forced to accept pay reductions in their award.

Ruth George and her colleagues took on the challenge of restoring their salaries despite employer opposition. Her determination and commitment to this cause was crucial in overcoming the employers’ objections and opposition. In honour of Ruth George, our union presents an annual award in her name to an active school officer unionist.

But it was in the post WWII boom years that things started to change rapidly.

With the rapid growth of population in the 1950’s there was intense pressure on the education system, it was not uncommon to have class sizes of 80-90 in primary schools.

From the 1960’s onwards the Religious started to leave their orders in great numbers and so Catholic schools faced a crisis. There was a great need for secular teachers and many came over from the State sector giving up the benefits of working in the government sector such as Government superannuation. There was no superannuation scheme for teachers in non-government schools.

There were many aspects of working as a teacher that needed to be addressed:

  • primary women teachers were paid less than their male counterparts;
  • many women working in Catholic Schools were paid less under the “religious exemption” provision;  and
  • Catholic schools tended to have larger class sizes than state schools… to name a few.

The 1970s-1980s

When the two unions amalgamated in 1970, the newly formed organisation took the name of the Queensland Association of Teachers in Independent (Non-Governmental) Schools - Union of Employees, or more simply, to a generation of our members, QATIS.
The union boasted 774 members at the time of amalgamation and then doubled in the next five years and trebled in 10 years.
In 1977 members at St Laurence’s, including Bob Rae, Terry Edwards, John Nash and Paul Forrester, believed that QATIS could be a more active and representative force in the non-government education sector and planned the historical election in the QATIS Council.
The resulting new blood gave to our union a significant change in orientation that is evident today in our constitution, union structures and a set of values that is articulated in our stated objectives and goals and, subsequently, reflected in the attitudes and actions that arise from them.
It should be remembered that at this time our union organisation was made up of volunteers. However, this was soon to change. 
Tim Quinn became the first paid organiser and covered the state.
QATIS members continued to be concerned about workplace conditions in the non-government sector. Key issues included superannuation, female wages, long service leave (13 weeks after 15 years), and the lack of access to ancillary leave arrangements.
In 1979 we had achieved full Award coverage for teachers in all non-governmental primary schools; in 1980 pre-school staff came under our cover too and in 1987 came the decision to grant coverage to principals and other education administrators. Service staff were able to become members from 1999 onwards.
Our union was growing. By 1982 we had 3,000 members.
Through the 1980’s our union was led by Peter O’Brien, an excellent advocate who took on the employers to educate them about the realities of the collective.
At this time there was significant growth in the Independent sector: the number of Lutheran, Anglican and Christian schools was increasing.

The 1990s onwards

On 26 June, 1990, QATIS gained coverage of private training colleges, as well as school secretaries and teacher aids (our school officers).
Terry Burke became General Secretary in 1994 and steadily our union grew in numbers, but more importantly in density and member activism.
Our union continued to expand. In 1999, we opened our first regional office in Townsville, followed by one in Bundaberg a few years later.
In 1997 it was clear that our name, QATIS (Queensland Association of Teachers in Independent Schools), did not reflect all of our membership, nor did the word Association adequately reflect our organisation or our intentions.  A referendum was conducted and our name changed to the Queensland Independent Education Union of Employees (QIEU).

Our recent union history is one of dramatic membership growth, with our union's membership consistently increasing by 5-6 per cent each year. In 1994, our membership totalled 6,450 members, and just eight years later our membership reached 11,000 membersa 70 per cent increase.  

Contemporary history

In 2007 the Queensland and Northern Territory branches of the IEUA merged.

The NT division had recognised its limited resources in facing the introduction of the Howard government's 2006 industrial relation laws.

Both the branches overwhelmingly favoured the amalgamationand IEUA-QNT was born. Read about our union structure here.

Our union continues to have a strong focus on campaigning in the best interests of all members. Bargaining campaigns have proven to be successful in protecting and improving workplace conditions.

IEUA-QNT has a growing membership of more than 17,000 teachers, aspiring teachers, school officers, early childhood teachers and assistants, and ELICOS and business college staff across Queensland and the Northern Territory.


Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.