Teachers and support staff from a wide variety of backgrounds came together during the school holidays to gain strength and confidence to take on a more active role.
For many of the 16 delegates at the IEU’s annual Activists Conference at Leura, the road to activism was a personal one. For instance, Vincent Cooper, Teacher at St Joseph’s High School in Aberdeen, spoke of his father, a proud Aboriginal man and staunch Labor voter, who had Vincent handing out ‘how to vote cards’ from the age of about six.
Vincent said unionists had helped many families during the stolen generation era when the ‘black cars’ would turn up to take away Aboriginal children.
Seeta Kildea, Teacher at St Brigid’s Marrickville, spoke of her grandmother, a doctor, whose commitment to social justice inspired her.
Seeta attended the Activist Conference last year and was so inspired it has changed her life. She has written the draft for a children’s book called United We Stand, about unionism, and is now an IEU council delegate and has attended the IEU environment conference.
The Activist Conference included a history of unionism by Secretary John Quessy, follow by a sector by sector rundown of issues by Assistant Secretary Carol Matthews.
Carol spelled out some of the legal obligations and rights around enterprise agreements and employment contracts.
She also questioned delegates about what should be included in a log of claims the IEU is preparing on work intensification. The claim may include payment for overnight camps, something that was warmly welcomed.
Learning more about their right and responsibilities was important for most of the delegates.Roberto Jorquera, Multimedia Technician at Loreto Normanhurst, is IEU Rep for his school.
“It’s been a challenge getting my head around the teachers’ issues, but we have a Union committee with some teachers on it, so it works quite well,” Roberto said.
“It’s been great learning more about the history of unionism and networking today.
“The background will help me discuss things with more confidence.”
Charles Wheeler, Languages Coordinator at Green Point Christian School on the Central Coast, wants to make a difference, especially in Christian schools.
‘The Union is not well represented in Christian schools – it’s not a fashionable path to take. But there’s no reason for that. I think Christian schools misunderstand the Union.
“Now I have more knowledge I am better armed with answers and examples to take action.”
Cheryl Collinson-Smith is keen to be a voice for early childhood teachers. She’s already on the Union’s ECS Council, and said the Union was playing an important role in helping ECS teachers prepare for accreditation.
“If it wasn’t for the Union, many ECS teachers wouldn’t know about accreditation,” she said.
Rowan Kelly, IT Teacher at St Francis Xavier College, was also bought up in a union family.
“Today has given me a bit of confidence to stand up and be an activitist. People are often afraid to take action because they fear retribution if they question processes and policy. But if you know your rights you’re more likely to fight for a fairer deal.”
Colleague Daniel Mitchell, Modern History and RE Teacher, said people should not expect to enjoy benefits if they weren’t prepare to put anything in themselves.