AEU SA Journal:  March 2021: Contents

Help strengthen the country workforce

Improving the employment conditions of country members is vital to the health of our union, the education system, and our communities. We cannot achieve world class education without a stable, consistent workforce in regional areas, writes Matthew Cherry.

The Department for Education is reviewing country incentives with a stated goal of strengthening the country workforce. As a union, we know that the employer cannot truly do this without consultation and advice from our members, so it is a positive step that late last year it met with AEU representatives to discuss its proposed model, and we addressed a wide range of topics.

We emphasised the need to increase the number of Permanent Relieving Teachers (PRTs) and extend their use to preschools. The employer should rely on that already established and successful system for filling vacant positions in country regions rather than creating a new process. 

Additional support for attracting and retaining teachers for country schools was won as part enterprise bargaining, and is worth $1.2 million per annum (with 2020’s allocation not yet spent). The AEU pressed the importance of ensuring that this support is not diminished by changes in policy or procedure. If anything, our country members need to be better funded.

Finally, our discussion with the employer emphasised the need for bona fide consultation with all who will be affected, positively or negatively, by the outcome of the review. In particular, the AEU demands that our members be heard at all stages of the process to ensure that their needs and the needs of their communities are respected. We also stated that it would be beneficial to include a seconded teacher as well as an AEU representative at the highest level of this review.

It was encouraging to hear the employer agree that it is important to maintain open lines of dialogue to foster a healthy and supportive work environment. We must ensure that the employer hears country members’ voice throughout this process. 

Please attend sub-branch meetings to discuss your school’s needs and what the employer could do to improve your school’s conditions for educators. What would help to recruit and retrain staff? You or your AEU rep can then provide feedback at an Area meeting or directly to the AEU’s Country Conditions Standing Committee (CCSC). 

You could also ask your principal or preschool director to pursue an update on the Country Teacher Workforce Proposal to report to members.

Finally, speaking to your school’s Governing Council or other relevant venues could encourage more opinions about the community’s needs and how to attract educators. These can also be reported to an Area meeting or the CCSC.

We need to work collectively to provide direction to the employer to achieve the best possible outcome for educators and their communities. Together we are strong.

Matthew Cherry is the AEU Sub-branch Secretary and teacher at Mount Gambier High School, and a member of the AEU’s Country Conditions Standing Committee and Branch Executive.