Cover of April 2022 Journal  AEU SA Journal: April 2022: Contents

COVID chaos and our commitment to students

Andrew Gohl, AEU SA Branch PresidentAndrew Gohl reflects on his first months as incoming AEU Branch President, and the chaotic start of the 2022 education year.

In late February AEU Campaign Organiser Kieran O’Dea and I met with members at the brand-new Whyalla Secondary College. Their commitment to their students and to establishing a new school in the face of COVID staffing shortages was moving and indicative of the commitment of all educators in SA to make the best of a tough situation.

However, the message from members at Whyalla was that this herculean effort wasn’t sustainable.

The Department for Education (DfE) is pressuring leaders and staff to keep sites open at any cost, and that cost is to the health and safety of all staff. Members are fatigued because industrial entitlements are being eroded to ensure cover for absent staff, and in response the AEU has provided advice to members about managing the industrial implications of the DfE strategy at a sub-branch level.

Union Power 1: Health, safety & Omicron

Congratulations to AEU members whose strong commitment to take action in the first week of school term sharpened the minds and opened the ears of the Department and Government.

The Omicron variant of COVID became apparent overseas in November 2021. It was evident by early January that preparations needed to commence for the school year. Premier Marshall’s staggered start with the potential for individual teachers being responsible for hybrid delivery underscored the issues that occur when educators’ working lives are controlled by those with no understanding of the work of teaching. This and the stream of contradictions that followed have made the work of leaders, teachers and support staff difficult.

More than 2000 members responded to a survey identifying what was needed for a safe workplace. On 6 January, I messaged the Minister and Chief Executive asking them to meet to discuss workplace safety for students and staff. One week later that meeting was convened, and we were frustrated at what seemed to be a dismissive response.

The support for industrial action in the member ballot in January was overwhelming and certainly succeeded in bringing DfE to the table to implement mitigation measures in schools and preschools. For a couple of weeks the AEU and the Department worked quite closely.

Let’s be clear – without members’ strong call to action, schools and preschools would’ve commenced the year without the necessary measures in place. Member strength is a potent force and now that power must be utilised by members and sub-branches at sites to ensure a safe workplace with industrial entitlements being maintained.

Union Power 2: Greens & Labor commit to Every School Every Child

AEU members participated last year in the Every School Every Child campaign for improved resourcing for students who need learning support – some of whom have waited up to two years for support. More than 10,000 petition signatures will also see the establishment of a Parliamentary Inquiry into student support.

Members of Parliament received delegations and the AEU sought education platforms from each of the major parties. Every School Every Child radio advertisements that reached over a million people have aired for most of last year and in the lead up to the state election.

This campaign has been very effective, and members should celebrate those extra resources for student support committed to by the Greens and the Labor party. In addition, both the Greens and Labor have committed to address the Schooling Resource Standard inequity. The AEU wrote to members in each electorate appraising each of the main parties’ responses prior to the 19 March election.

Union Power 3: TAFE members hold Government to account

Despite a letter of offer that indicated a TAFE SA commitment to roll over the existing Enterprise Agreement into a new agreement with some updating of some clauses, analysis revealed that there were some significant clause changes that had not been explained
by the employer.

TAFE AEU members were furious and felt betrayed. TAFE members voted down an employer attempt to sideline the AEU by conducting a ballot that would see the Agreement signed off by three non-union Education Managers who had been hand-picked by the employer.

Industrial action – the first supported by TAFE members in a decade – brought the employer to the table and negotiations about the reworded clauses have commenced.

The rally attended by 100 TAFE members on the steps of Parliament House voted that more action was to follow should the employer fail to adhere to the rollover of the Enterprise Agreement as set out in their letter of offer.

Thank you for your support

Finally, thank you to members for your support in the recent AEU elections.

It’s an honour to be elected as SA Branch President. I’m looking forward to meeting members and listening to issues and concerns.

I want to congratulate newly elected Vice President Matthew Cherry and the ongoing Vice President Jan Murphy and Branch Secretary Leah York. Despite a hectic start, we’ve already gelled as an effective leadership team.

More than ever, workers need strong unions and strong unions need active members. Engage with your union and take control of your working life. Your students need that. Your family needs that.