It’s a fact that being a Fed Rep in some schools is more challenging than in others. History, relationships, environment and member attitudes play crucial roles. Kylie Davis is Fed Rep at Caringbah High, where facilities and relationships with the executive are good and union members benefit from excellent spadework over the past years by Fed Reps and Organisers.
Some members are born to Fed Repness and some get the job because they were spotted wearing a certain t-shirt; that was what happened to Kylie although her heart was with the union long before that.
“Without the union I wouldn’t be allowed to teach,” she reminds members. “As a woman, 50 years ago I would have had to resign from my position upon marriage; 20 years ago I would have had to resign if I had a child. Not only that, but as a new permanent teacher I get release time to develop my craft, I have a mentor to support me, I get paid an ever-increasing income and feel confident that my employment is secure even if I get sick or injured.”
Her activism was kick-started at her previous school where the Fed Rep was looking for an activist to work with him as Women’s Contact. Kylie had attended several stopwork meetings on salary negotiations and the Fed Rep, with a beady eye out for talent as a Rep is wont to do, suggested she become involved with the school’s Workplace Committee.
At Caringbah High, where Kylie was made a permanent teacher of English, another beady-eyed Fed Rep noticed her at a sports day wearing a Federation t-shirt, and approached her. “He introduced me to the Association and, upon retirement, endorsed me as the new Fed Rep,” she said. This is her second year in the role.
The school has a good environment. “As a Fed Rep you can often be responding to conflict or negative situations in schools but there are also a lot of very positive experiences to be had,” Kylie said. “For example, my principal regularly consults with me about changes to staffing, promoting transparency, fairness and equity for all staff.”
In this generally supportive environment her role is often, thankfully, “largely symbolic”. “The impromptu conversations, quick questions and counselling sessions I have with individuals are, however, incredibly important. Providing one-on-one support, helping to calm, comfort or encourage my colleagues is invaluable, and I feel grateful that I am trusted by my colleagues to be their support person.
“I find that the best way to encourage new members is to remind people of how privileged we are, thanks to unions. I remind other teachers that by joining and contributing to the union they will make schools better for students and teachers and that without a strong member base our conditions and status as professionals will come under attack. I also tell them that Federation legal assistance and the Centre for Professional Learning are wonderful resources.”
Kylie wants to do more to get members to Make the Switch to direct payment of union fees. “I’ve done terribly at this, to be honest. I know that I could be doing better.”
Kylie’s cats and dogs command most of her leisure time: four kittens lie curled up with her on the sofa where she reads and watches films. Two puppies accompany her on walks near home by the coast in the Northern Suburbs of the Illawarra, and she likes hiking the escarpment. When she can, she and her husband head overseas “to see as much of this incredible world, and the people within it as I possibly can”.