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The IEU congratulates its members at Southern Vales Christian College

The year 2023 proved to be a defining one for members at Southern Vales Christian College (SVCC).

Early in the year, the principal advised staff that due to changes in federal industrial laws, the school’s soon to be out of date Enterprise Agreement (EA) would be ‘extinguished’ by year’s end. As a consequence, the school intended to convert all staff (teachers and school assistants) to individual contracts of employment underpinned by the relevant Modern Award.

Meetings were held by the school to assist in the transition and explain the process.

All this arose because of the unilateral decision made by the SVCC Board and it was duly ‘wrapped up’ in promises of no staff member being worse off — all existing entitlements would be retained and, in fact, in some instances improved!

Fortunately, members contacted the IEU officer to seek both clarification and verification that this was the case.

A quick assessment by the IEU(SA) Industrial Team revealed what was being offered was not what was promised.

A meeting between IEU members (with support from the IEU office) and school leadership (with support from the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA)) failed to resolve the impasse.

Setting aside the diminishing or removal of entitlements that would occur as a result of the proposed contracts offered by ‘forced change’, it seemed lost on the SVCC management team that the failure to consult with staff and ask their opinion as to what industrial instrument they wished their entitlements to be safeguarded in, was paramount. The school’s actions lead to a crisis in confidence.

Moving forward, the employer refused to confirm it would engage in EA negotiations when members had made it clear individual contracts of employment were not wanted.

As a consequence, the IEU organised a group of members to circulate a petition for all staff to sign  their preference was to have their conditions of employment continue in a new EA and not individual contracts of employment.

After confirming the majority of SVCC staff had signed the petition, the IEU presented the employer with two options :

  1. To confirm SVCC would rescind the new contracts of employment and engage in negotiations for a new EA with its employees, or;
  2. the IEU would use a formal process to force the employer to change its mind by submitting an application to the Fair Work Commission for a ‘majority support determination’ and use the petition in evidence.

Sanity prevailed.

The school acquiesced and notified employees at the close of 2023 it will commence negotiations for a new EA in Term 2 2024.

IEU members in all non-government education work places, not just those at the College, should applaud the efforts of the SVCC Sub-Branch members who had the courage to question the board and management directive and ensure collective strength prevailed.

Individual contracts simply diminish the power a group of employees has to negotiate safeguards and improvements to their conditions of employment.

All members can learn from this. Ask a potential member at your work place to join the IEU and increase your collective voice –