Conditions lost due to collective complacency
The dangers of complacency and a lack of collective strength when it comes to working rights and conditions as well as the mercilessness of some employers has been highlighted at one independent school in Queensland recently.
The school in question has operated in Queensland for many years but has been marked by low rates union membership by employees, due in part to long-serving management and a culture where staff felt their working rights and conditions were “safe”.
As a result, there was no collective agreement in place to protect the quite generous working conditions staff received – instead each staff member had been appointed on a separate contract of employment.
In recent years, a new Principal was appointed leading to significant and rapid change for employees at the school including the introduction of new employment contracts for all staff.
While staff had previously been paid well above the award, afforded generous non-contact time for planning, preparation and correction and had always had strong professional relations with their administration, the new contracts offered conditions and entitlements significantly below what staff had enjoyed.
Effectively the contracts were in line with the minimum entitlements as provided in the Modern Award meaning negative changes for employees’ conditions in terms of:
- reduced wages
- increased weekly hours of duty
- increased length of the school year
- extra professional development and extra-curricular commitments
- larger class sizes
- reductions in planning, preparation and correction time.
A number of staff were made redundant as other staff where forced to work more for less.
In the face of the changes, staff from the school approached our union for assistance, however as they were not members at the time the changes occurred and had all signed individual contracts agreeing to the reduced conditions, our union was unable to provide coverage or protection.
While these staff have since joined our union, they are now having to start from scratch to try and rebuild the working conditions they lost through a collective agreement.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary said the situation faced by the staff at this school was far from uncommon when complacency about working conditions dominated workplace culture.
“What this recent case highlights is the need to be an active member of your union and to never be complacent with management.
“Situations change, people change but our union is always there to protect our members.
“It can be easy to think that working conditions just exist, it is important that all members and employees for that matter, understand that they do so because of the collective strength, sacrifice and hard work of our union and generations of members who have gone before us.
“While the gains won by financial members in our sector are passed on to everyone, when people choose not to be part of the collective they putting themselves at the control and whim of their employer.
“The case also reinforces the need to ensure that working conditions are given enforceability through a Collective Agreement because ultimately, individual contracts, history and good relationships have very clear limits.”