Australian Education Union you gotta be kidding?

By 17 March 2014 18

This year I am starting my diploma in Education at UC and recently saw a presentation from some union advocates about, unions, the high level of union representation among teachers, blah blah blah. During the Q&A we discovered that school Principals and Deputy Principals can be full union members of the AEU.

To me this is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. Seriously, can anyone  give me a valid reason why executive officers (senior management) are allowed to be union members?



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18 Responses to
Australian Education Union you gotta be kidding?
Grail 10:36 am
17 Mar 14

What is your complaint? Principals are not “executive”. They are teachers who are now in a management position. The education unions are facing off against the education department bureaucracy, so you’re all on the same “side” in that conflict. Wouldn’t it make sense that your principal is on the same team when it comes to arguing against state-enforced changes to syllabus, teacher/student ratio, working conditions and pay?

You need to know which battles the union is fighting.

Erg0 11:11 am
17 Mar 14

Principals and Deputy Principals are covered by the same Enterprise Agreement as classroom teachers, so they have a right to membership of the union that’s negotiating on their behalf. I think you may have a lot to learn about teachers’ perceptions of management, as the union seems to consider the bureaucratic arm of the department to be “the enemy” management-wise, probably because that’s who they have to negotiate with every three years.

Affirmative Action M 12:14 pm
17 Mar 14

Having spent 10 years in the ACT Education Dpt & having put 3 boys through Govt primary schools I reckon the Teachers Union is a key impediment to improving the quality of the Education System.

They have 1 mantra “Employ more teachers”.

They are ideologically opposed to competition or excellence or getting rid of dud teachers.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 12:19 pm
17 Mar 14

Starting a diploma and already worrying about who’s in and who’s out of the union…

Maya123 1:58 pm
17 Mar 14

VYBerlinaV8_is_back said :

Starting a diploma and already worrying about who’s in and who’s out of the union…

I think Joanne1987 comment,”blah blah blah” said it all. It sounds as though she switched off at that point. It appears to indicate a certain inflexibility of mind. Is that what is wanted in teachers?

Joanne1987 3:59 pm
17 Mar 14

Principals set the workload and priorities of the school correct. They have powers to change a teachers working conditions, staffing numbers, to discipline teachers, transfers etc they have significantly more control over the workplace. They are the boss. To say they are on the same side as teachers is just silly – why have unions at all? Are the checkout operator and the Coles Board on the same side? A principal’s performance measures are different from those of a teacher and running a teacher into the ground to achieve their own outcome happens regularly I’m sure. Principals also have deeper pockets and are big enough and tough enough to negotiate their own contracts and terms and should do so and given that Christopher Pyne wants more principal autonomy, well?

Lastly, to address Grail’s point, the AEU doesn’t exist to improve educational outcomes – that’s a by-product – it exists to protect workers not bosses.

p1 5:07 pm
17 Mar 14

Interesting questions. How does this work in other industries? If you are a mechanic for twenty years, then the owner of the workshop takes a step back and leaves you in charge of the day to day running, are you immediately excommunicated from the union?

I assume it is the way it is because, while the principal might be the top of the management tree controlling a teachers day to day conditions of employment, when it comes to organised representation, bargaining for extra dollars must be more important.

mr_pink 5:40 pm
17 Mar 14

Joanne, I have been teaching for 14 years and I agree with you 99%. I don’t agree with you when say unions are for workers. Modern unions sadly are for members not workers and the AEU ACT Branch is in my opinion is the worst on that front and that’s coming from a member. When it comes to disputes with lower ranking staff they get double the backing. They get backed by the department and by the union. It’s a crock.

Deref 8:44 pm
17 Mar 14

“you gotta be kidding”

I hope basic English grammar is a component of your teacher training.

gungsuperstar 8:45 pm
17 Mar 14

Joanne1987 said :

Principals set the workload and priorities of the school correct.

Incorrect – politicians and Education Departments set workload and priorities.

Joanne1987 said :

They have powers to change a teachers working conditions.

Wrong. Conditions are set out in Enterprise Agreements.

Joanne1987 said :

staffing numbers, to discipline teachers, transfers etc they have significantly more control over the workplace. .

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Staff numbers, serious disciplinary issues and transfers are all at the behest of the department.

You appear to have NFI.

mr_pink said :

I don’t agree with you when say unions are for workers. Modern unions sadly are for members not workers and the AEU ACT Branch is in my opinion is the worst on that front and that’s coming from a member.

What a strange comment. Why should unions represent anyone other than their paying members? It takes staff and resources to you the conditions, the holidays and the working hours that the rest of us could only dream of. If non-members get the same representation, whose going to join the union? Without the union, who is going to negotiate and enforce the aforementioned conditions?

Finally, to the OP – maybe worry about getting your diploma before you start bitching about the union that won teachers their pay, conditions, their sick leave, their annual leave, their super, caps on class sizes and professional development.

You’ll have at least 12 weeks holidays a year to consider what a scab you are, mooching off the hard-fought conditions won by the union that you’re already bitching about.

mr_pink 12:04 am
18 Mar 14

A shrill and distorted response from gungsuperstar so:
1. Principals inevitably set school priorities and workloads vary accordingly.
2. The EPA allows for dozens of areas where the principal can vary work conditions within their school.
3. RE staffing the department only allocates allowances, how those allowances are used are at the principal’s behest. Whether contracts are allocated or extended are at their discretion. Promotions are made on their recommendations. They, and deputies, can allow or refuse leave requests. They have discretionary powers to elevate concerns around misconduct or performance or address them at a school level.
4. The AEU is welcome to say it is for it members but not that it is for workers. If it was, then management wouldn’t be allowed to join would they. So let’s not pretend.
5. Joanne is entitled to her view without internet thuggery. It’s a good observation and reasonable question to ask for someone starting out. Joanne, cognitive dissidence is an occupational hazard.
6. “mooching off the hard-fought conditions won by the union,” Ha! Let’s tell that one to the HSU members where the mooching and whoring goes the other way. A good load of mooching gets done on my AEU dollar too.

damien haas 12:47 pm
18 Mar 14

A lot of senior academics and public servants retain union membership, especially if they are also members of the ALP.

Roundhead89 7:30 pm
18 Mar 14

The Australian Education Union used to be called the Teachers’ Federation as in Builders’ Labourers Federation. They are so left wing they make the old BLF look like Naotsi Germany.

TomGreenwell 8:16 pm
18 Mar 14

Hi Joanne,

I’m Tom and I’m the Communications & Research Officer in the AEU ACT office. Interested in your perspective on this. If I understand you correctly, you’re concerned that representing principals could undermine our capacity to represent classroom teachers. I’d say the proof is in the pudding. Together, we’ve won huge gains for classroom teachers in recent years as well as recent decades.

Here’s three.

Classroom teachers at the top of the salary scale will be paid $11000 more per annum in 2014 than they were in 2011 (due to our successful 2011 enterprise agreement campaign).

If you become an educator in Canberra, you’ll enjoy one less face-to-face hour each week in your first year and 15 support days in your first three years. This time is really important for new educators to work on your practice and deliver the best results for your students. It’s also a recognition that the workload of new educators is inevitably higher.

Decades of activism by our union has reduced class sizes from as high as 60 to 20 – 30. There’s now lots of interesting debate about whether further reducing class sizes is the best way to spend limited resources. Few argue that historic reductions are a bad thing. Classroom teachers certainly don’t.

Principals as members have not stopped us achieving these wins. Indeed, some of our most active members are principals and executive teachers (heads of department). In an organisation of 3500 people in Canberra and 200,000 people nationally, there will always be a range of interests and perspectives that have to be reconciled. We do this through rigorous democratic processes. Our council (which has representatives from every school) is meeting this Saturday:

We all have to compromise but the idea of our union is that working together we getter better outcomes for teachers and students.

In relation to other comments above, AEU ACT is not in an antagonistic relationship with public servants in the Education & Training Directorate. They do essential work to make our schools function. Indeed, we proudly represent classroom teachers who transfer into the directorate.

Of course, when it comes to bargaining the enterprise agreement we are in opposition to the employer. By bargaining hard, we’ve won a succession of great results for our members and our schools. However, we are proud to say we cooperate and collaborate with the employer on a great deal. We both share the great objective of advancing the cause of public education.

Joanne, I hope that when the time comes, you’ll not only consider joining our union but becoming a delegate as well. It’s people like you who think about how our schools work and actively participate in debate and take responsibility who make our union tick. In the meantime, you’re always welcome to join us in conversation at @AEUACT and

hotsalsa 9:16 pm
18 Mar 14

I was in at a union meeting once where a teacher wanted the school to organise a workload committee. The deputy and her lackeys shut her down and a few weeks later she was on a performance process.
Just saying.

miz 7:35 am
19 Mar 14

People join unions because of the simple logic that workers can put a stronger case if they are a group. It makes a lot of sense to join the Education Union, given the crap teachers put up with, the burn out rates etc. It is obvious the OP has no idea what she is in for once she starts teaching (having a couple of teachers in the ACT in the family)! Not touting for AEU I assure you, my perception (from family members and the media) is that I don’t think they have been particularly effective here in the ACT, given the erosion of conditions over the last few years (worse pay and conditions than most States). However when you find out the government’s tactics, e.g. intentionally delaying negotiations so pay rises are delayed etc, you will probs wish you were in fact a member of the union.

mr_pink 1:54 pm
01 Apr 14

I don’t see a great deal of deductive reasoning in Tom’s response. His only argument is; the union does some things and it does them with senior management as members. He really doesn’t address the OPs issue which is that principals and deps have a significant conflict of interest if they are allowed to remain union members. I think hotsalsa raises an interesting hypothetical too which I’d like to see Tom tackle.

JoeyM 10:08 pm
12 Apr 15

I have been a teacher in Victorian schools for 20 years, a member of the AEU for more than 15 and a workplace rep for 3.
Principals are the employer’s (department’s) representative in the workplace – they are your employer. The EBA sets out conditions of employment, but that doesn’t mean that a Principal will implement those conditions. And, as Mr_Pink has stated, Principal’s control the workplace environment.
Your Principal has complete control of your career and your day to day working life. If your Principal decides that they ‘don’t like you’ for any reason, they can end your career and make your days at work miserable.
When a Principal is a member of the AEU they can (and do) attend AEU meetings in the workplace – then teachers can be afraid to contribute their opinions and ideas if they disagree with those of their Principal – such as unfair workload, too many meetings, unfair allocation of roles, Principal not following the EBA, etc. Principals have a union dedicated to their interests. Our union should be dedicated to ours – in my opinion. These unions can work together on issues relevant for both Principals and teachers such as negotiating the EBA.
I have witnessed and been the victim of bullying by colleagues and by Principals. The AEU provided little or no support and our rep told me that he didn’t know what to do about our school, nor the school a few kms down the road where similar things were happening.
I recommend a book “Bullying of staff in schools” written by Riley, Duncan and Edwards published in 2012 by ACER press – written by Australians about Australian schools. Their research found that the staff members in schools most often bullied are experienced teachers, those most often the bullies are Principals.
Not all Principals treat their staff badly of course, but a significant number do.
The Victorian DET’s “Guidelines for managing complaints, misconduct and unsatisfactory performance” do not ensure fairness or natural justice. No evidence is required to find allegations against a teacher to be substantiated and consequent termination of their employment.
If a Principal decides to take a complaint out against a teacher it is easy for them to find ‘issues’ (every teacher is late to meetings, to take their students in or to meet a deadline occasionally) or to just make them up! In Victoria Principals lodge their own complaint, with themselves, against a teacher. They create their allegations, decide who they will interview as witnesses (their employees) and determine whether or not their complaint is substantiated, whether the teacher is guilty of misconduct etc. Then they decide on the consequences – declassification, removal of roles, removal of student teacher from the teacher’s supervision, etc or even termination of employment. It all goes on the teacher’s file and can have further consequences later on. If an investigator is appointed by the DET, they are usually ex-Principals or managers. The department provides support to Principals, but not to teachers. We have to rely on the AEU. I have asked our AEU manager of membership services about the conflict of representing teachers and their Principals. He told me that they have a ‘code of conduct’.

I can recommend another book, also Australian: ‘Effective Workplace Investigations’ by Bryant-Smith, Beard and Klug, 2013, Portner Press. I recommended it to our AEU manager and President but it was ignored. I think that the Victorian branch of the AEU is out of date with accepted practice. I also think that Victorian AEU staff are too close to the department’s managers – who are currently being investigated for corruption including ‘jobs for family and friends’.
Teachers can be reprimanded, fined, declassified or terminated as a result of a complaint by a Principal. We deserve investigators who have been trained to carry out effective investigations. Our union should be working to improve the DET’s policy to ensure fairness and justice so that the truth is established. There are teachers who should not be in our schools, but there are excellent teachers who are being bullied out of them by Principals.

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