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Leading your Workplace Committee
When a Workplace Committee’s first act is to bring in the union guns to address an issue in the school, it is very likely vital steps have been missed or mismanaged on the path to such a confrontation.
The aim of a new Trade Union Training (TUT) course for Federation Representatives is to equip them with a set of leadership skills and practices to build their own armoury to deal with such concerns and disputes as they arise — and before they escalate.
Acting TUT Officer Michael de Wall said there had been many cases where a Fed Rep — through communication, consultation and negotiation — was capable of securing a “win” on an issue that was, instead, referred to an Organiser; thus depriving the school of ownership and leadership on the matter.
He said Workplace Committees should not assume that the union’s head office was the first and only resort, and this was where TUT’s Leading your Workplace Committee course sought to build skills in Fed Reps to lead colleagues and their activism.
“We are trying to change the mentality,” he explained, “that these elected people have a leadership role that can pursue and resolve these issues and not just a union role to act as a conduit to the Organiser.
“As the course aim states, teacher agency and collegiality are central to the development of positive school cultures and the provision of high-quality teaching and learning.”
The Fed Rep role can be an isolating position, seen as the embodiment of Federation in the workplace with responsibility for the wellbeing of staff members.
“It’s one of the only positions in the school where your peers elect you and you take on that responsibility as an important one,” said attendee Catherine Moran, who is Fed Rep at Freshwater Senior Campus.
“You feel this great responsibility for the people at your school who ask for your support, for your advice and you are really in a privileged position and with that comes great responsibility. I think sometimes it can feel isolating.
“Going to association meetings and coming to courses such as this is important to ‘check in’ with the people who are doing the same job … to share examples of the work and the strategies they’ve put in place. Just the feeling you’re coming together as a collegial group gives you lots of opportunity to share stories and work on your own practices and ultimately getter better.”
Mandy Wells, Fairfield TA President and Fed Rep at Fairfield Public School, said the course provided a framework of best practice for leadership of Workplace Committees to be proactive and reactive.
“Proactive to avoid issues or reactive to address them,” Ms Wells said. “We’ve been presented with the research and evidence behind what’s considered to be best practice, so we’re looking at consultation, communication, negotiation but more importantly how good leaders connect and build relationships.”
For Fed Rep at Blackwell Public School Rob Samuels a highlight of the course was the opportunity to connect with people from a wide range of different workplace scenarios; with their “commonalities and differences in background”.
“Just that idea that … I can go back [to the school] with the people here as a resource, as a foundation for reference, as a point of contact for advice or maybe even just for reality checks,” Mr Samuels, St Marys-Mount Druitt TA President, said.
“We’re all in similar positions and you can sometimes feel a bit isolated in the workplace if you’re the Fed Rep or perceived as the personification of the Federation. The very fact that there are a range of people here — and I only knew two other people before — all in similar positions I think that’s just really helpful.”
While the two-day course includes six hours and 40 minutes of professional development registered with NESA, the remaining time provides space for a deeper exploration of issues of union power, campaigning and the development of a strategy and plan to take back to the workplace.
— Scott Coomber