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Contract employment – no such thing

Insecure Work is an issue for unions in general and the IEU is no exception. Without permanent employment people not only have the worry of what they will be doing from time to time, but will also have difficulty getting finance. In the non-government sector our agreements and awards have ongoing permanent work as the default and only allow fixed term employment under narrowly defined conditions.

You cannot be employed on “contract” simply because the employer wants the flexibility to “let you go” for whatever reason. There is a probation period to test your suitability and if staffing numbers do need cutting, then there is a redundancy process.

As much as there may be a public perception that employers have the option of employing staff “on contract” at will, that is not the situation in our sector. We have been able to hang onto the protections enshrined in the old state awards by incorporating them into agreements. Even the modern award for teachers makes no provision for blanket use of “contracts”. In fact the word “contract” is not used in awards and agreements. The only valid use of the term “contract” would be for management positions not covered by awards and agreements.

It has been a concern that in recent times schools have been increasingly using “contract” in advertisements for staff. The IEU has a role in monitoring and protecting conditions. When we contacted schools advertising for contract staff to clarify if the employment was consistent with the agreement we received a variety of responses.

In some cases the school agreed that the position should be ongoing and promised to make that change. In some cases further information was provided which clarified that the position, although misnamed, was actually compliant. One Catholic school has realised that many ESOs were inappropriately classified as temporary and has converted the positions to permanent.

Some AIS schools however took umbrage at having their practice challenged and the conversations were defensive and somewhat less than cordial. The AIS has fixed the problem by advising schools to not reply to IEU inquiries on the matter. That will fix it – not! Rather than correcting terminology and practice before there was an issue, we are now potentially heading to formal disputation when members realise that they are not truly “contract” but should have been permanent for perhaps many years.

There are cases currently being arbitrated and it looks like there will be more to come if the AIS schools refuse to engage at the early stage. If any members are concerned that their “contract” or a series of rolling contracts may not be legitimate please contact your organiser or the IEU directly for assistance. Log in to the IEU website member section to check your school EA.

As much as enterprise agreements vary from school to school, the clauses below from the Catholic EA are typical. Non-teaching staff (however called) have similar protections.

Clause 27:  Terms of Engagement
27.1 Teachers will be employed as permanent full-time, permanent part-time, replacement, temporary or casual Teachers  …..

Clause 28:  Replacement Teachers
28.1 A replacement Teacher is one who is hired for a period mutually agreed between the employer and the Teacher.

28.2 A replacement Teacher may be hired to replace a Teacher absent on approved leave of any kind.  However, the replacement Teacher does not have to fill the position vacated by the Teacher on leave.

28.3 Before an employer hires a replacement Teacher the employer must inform the Teacher in writing of the temporary nature of the employment and the rights of the Teacher who is being replaced.

Clause 29:  Temporary Teachers
29.1 A Teacher may be hired on a temporary basis for a period not exceeding 2 years to:
1. Fill a position established on a “trial” basis; eg consequent upon experimental curriculum change; or
2. Fill a position sustained by specific purpose qualified funding provided by the Government.

29.2 Where a Teacher is hired on a temporary basis in accordance with clause 29.1, either party may terminate the contract of hiring by providing 4 weeks’ notice in writing.

29.3 A Teacher may be hired on a temporary basis for a period not exceeding 12 months to:
1. Fill an unforeseen vacancy pending filling the position on a permanent basis; or
2. Provide additional teaching staff for temporary increases in enrolments at the School which occur after the commencement of the school year.

Clause 30:  Casual Teachers (Temporary Relief Teachers)
30.1 A casual Teacher is one hired and paid by the day for a period mutually agreed between the employer and the Teacher.

30.2 Either party may terminate the contract by providing one day’s notice.