The challenge for a Fed Rep is to represent all members — from the principal to the newest graduates — equally without creating divisions, says Anna Brown, Fed Rep at Karabar HS and Distance Education Centre in Queanbeyan, near the ACT border.
“We always need to frame problems in the context of Federation policy. For instance, a teacher might complain that the head teacher is demanding too much of them but we might need to recognise that the head teacher is often only trying to fulfil his or her supervisory role — so working together on something like this involves collectively challenging the workload problem.”
Fed Reps have to be prepared to take on all kinds of challenges. Recently, Karabar High found itself without water due to a burst water main nearby. Staff found that while students were sent home they were expected to remain at work in those conditions.
“I met with the principal and contacted the Organiser, Waine Donovan, who in turn contacted the Department and Senior Officers in Federation to seek advice. Arrangements were made with the nearby primary school to use their toilets and the Council brought in drinking water. Staff were also given the option of being quartered at nearby schools and using facilities there for the time being.”
Anna is proud of the members who have taken part in the campaign to secure fairer schools funding.
“This has been a very long campaign,” she said.
“The challenge lies in encouraging people to participate in campaigns like this without bullying them. Teachers are already overworked and it is sometimes a big ask to get them to turn out for campaign activities but there are always people who understand the importance and answer the call.”
Anna has been Fed Rep for about 14 years with a couple of years off, having taken on the job when the previous Fed Rep and Councillor for the Queanbeyan TA, Helen Hennessy, urged her to step up.
To prepare herself, she attended a Trade Union Training course. Anna advises members considering standing as Fed Rep to join their school’s Workplace Committee and take on a role such as Women’s Contact. They should also start taking an active part in Federation campaigns.
Campaigns themselves encourage activism: teachers at Karabar who previously had taken a backseat role in union activity came out onto the streets for the recent Gonski doorknocks because the “cause” was all around them: amplified by union representatives, reinforced by political comment and with the stakes in keeping extra schools funding clear to all teachers.
Unions, says Anna, play a crucial role in our democracy by empowering people at the grassroots level. “Teacher unions are also strong on social justice issues and I do believe this is important,” she adds.
Outside school, Anna sings with, and sometimes conducts, a community choir and runs and plays in a Celtic band at the local Irish Club. She enjoys bike riding but disclaims Tour de France pretensions.