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Emboldened by union experience

September 14, 2018

Everyone I worked with at Federation’s head office in Surry Hills during my two-week stint as an Anna Stewart Officer was incredibly generous with their time and energy, making me feel welcome and encouraged.

The program gives women an opportunity to see first-hand the various roles the union fulfils, and gain a taste of the many positions they can hold in Federation, both at a local and state level.

It is an affirmative action program aimed at developing the skills, knowledge and confidence of women members and empowering them to be actively involved in Federation in their workplace, local association or at state level.

I have been a member of Federation since 1987 and joined in the industrial action of the Metherell years — marched, joined in campaigns and went on strike as necessary. Apart from being Fed Rep and Women’s Contact, I had never actively engaged with the union.

Sure, I attended the Fundamentals for Federation Representatives and Women’s Contacts course and then Communicating and Negotiating Skills for Fed Reps and Women’s Contacts. These courses gave me the confidence to say to members, “Ring up the union and ask for advice,” or “That doesn’t sound right, talk to [our Organiser].

During my two weeks at Federation, I was invited to various teacher association meetings, seeing first-hand how other associations run their meetings and local elections, and the different issues facing country and city associations.

I attended an Aboriginal march on the International Day of Indigenous Peoples under the theme “Beyond Survival” — a show of unity between not only our First Peoples but also other unions from NSW.

Phone duty involved listening to members who ring or email with concerns that may be as simple as “How many minutes am I entitled to for recess?” or as difficult as facing the worst allegations of their life and, of course, the whole gamut in between.

I was fortunate enough to sit in on TAFE TA Council, and heard the situations facing TAFE, including some campuses running out of toilet paper and how, with funding freezes, no more can be purchased. The freeze has also affected class support staffing levels at Open Training and Education Network (OTEN), resulting in unsatisfactory student services. Through the dedicated work of the Deputy Secretary (Post Schools) and TAFE Organisers, I was fortunate enough to see this resolved and announced to the members at TAFE Digital HQ.

At the Unions NSW Women’s Caucus and their regular Women’s Committee meeting, I heard roundtable discussion on the progress of paid domestic violence leave and the Unions NSW sexual harassment talks.

I spent much time talking to some amazing officers on issues such as casual and temporary teachers, multicultural education and Aboriginal education, just to name a few.

The main portion of my time at Federation was spent observing the activities of Council: being invited to attend Executive meetings, Officer’s briefings on matters to come before Council, and post briefings on the outcome of Council.

August Council involved a meeting on Friday night in addition to the usual Saturday meeting, to accommodate time for election of Administrative Officers for 2019-21. Like always, Women’s Caucus was held on the Saturday morning before Council, a chance for women Councillors to meet and discuss experiences and concerns, and share knowledge to ensure all women Councillors have the skills to participate fully in Council.

I was fortunate enough to talk with Senior Vice President Henry Rajendra, formally and informally. On all occasions, he took great care to remind me that everything the union does is for our members, and everything comes from a position of “How does this fit in the classroom?”, as well as how Federation has evolved from being a policy-driven organisation to one that develops policies based on need (that is, what will best suit our teachers, children and parents?)

As a result of completing the Anna Stewart Program, I am now aware of the roles within Federation I can take on. I have more confidence to put up my hand at a school level and will take on a more active role within my local teachers association. I am seeing roles that I have previously thought either unattainable or “not for me”, become within reach.

I would sincerely recommend any interested woman, from any background or location within the state, to apply for the Anna Stewart Program.

There are two variations. The first is a two-week program, where you get a “taste” of how Federation operates and gain an opportunity to meet the people employed to help our members. Alternatively, there is the term 4 program, which allows you to undertake a project set by the Women’s Committee and Anna Stewart Program.

Do not let your location in relation to Sydney hinder your decision to nominate for the Anna Stewart Program. Country members are encouraged to nominate and, if selected, will be provided with accommodation within an easy commute to Teachers Federation House.

Lee Anne Ecroyd teaches at Bega Valley Public School