Caitriona’s story

The union has been very supportive for me. I think the challenge is encouraging people to speak up for themselves in a workplace, and being part of the union and having knowledge can give you

Performing Arts teacher, Warringa Park Special School

The union has been very supportive for me. I think the challenge is encouraging people to speak up for themselves in a workplace, and being part of the union and having knowledge can give you the confidence to do that.

Recently I had to speak up at our school. The principal made a recruitment announcement, saying that they would advertise four ongoing positions, and that we had seven eligible people. Because I had recently attended a PD session at the union on contracts, I knew we actually had 13 eligible people. I had to have a discussion with the principal about who was eligible and who wasn’t, and in the end he agreed. He laughed and said, “You’re a hard woman to battle!” Without that training, it’s hard to figure out who’s entitled to what. People saw me advocating and then they started to advocate for themselves, and that’s what you want. I suppose you lead by example.

The disability sector is different from mainstream schools in a lot of ways, so having the union’s support is very important, especially when it comes to negotiating our own local agreements, as each centre runs independently. The union also helps to ensure that we have targeted, relevant PD. It also gives us pertinent advice, and support with our specific OHS needs.

The union has made a difference to our workplace by standing up to the previous Coalition government on performance-based pay.

For our students who have very complex needs, we focus on levels of engagement, not achievement. With Performance & Development, you risk setting up competition between teachers. When the Department released the P&D prototype, we adapted it and made it unique to us – the emphasis was on student engagement and how you’d measure that.

As the sub-branch representative at Warringa, I recently helped organise a hot breakfast morning and AEU’s Deputy Secretary Carolyn Clancy came out for it. It was great to have her there – everybody, members and non-members, could sit and have a chat about different workplace issues. It wasn’t too formal. We signed up five new members, so that was great!