“I did fall into the Federation Rep position at school,” Diane Ridley admits. “No one was keen to take over the position after our previous Rep accepted a transfer.” She quickly found that being plugged in close to the union paid dividends.
Stay informed, is Diane’s bottom-line message about why union engagement is important. “It is important that workers inform themselves of their rights. A working knowledge of awards and agreements makes it much easier to defend conditions in the workplace.
“Information is easy to find — it’s there on the Federation’s website and the Teachers Handbook on the Portal. Federation apps give us information at our fingertips.
“Use it to ensure our conditions are not eroded. The danger is for misinformation and eroded conditions to become accepted as the norm, and our award can be rewritten to reflect this.
“With the risks inherent in Local Schools, Local Decisions it is vitally important we are all vigilant.”
The Fed Rep, who is teacher librarian at Dapto High, comes from an area where unions have a strong history — “where hospitals, clubs and swimming pools were all built by unions”.
“We have had a few wins at school,” she said, from her time as Fed Rep. “We successfully renegotiated a supervision policy for the school. It now lays out the responsibilities of staff with the relevant reference to a high school.
“I’m pleased to say issues are usually dealt with amicably.”
Diane is keen to encourage her students to think about wider issues, helping to take some to the White Ribbon rally against domestic violence last year. “The students were really moved by the experiences of speakers at the rally,” she said.
From attendance at Association meetings Diane became interested in Council where she is keen to highlight the problems facing specialist teachers. “Too many times I hear of principals not replacing their teacher librarian. It will be a very sad day if the profession ceases to exist. Once gone, we will not return.
“I am dismayed when my colleagues throughout the State repeatedly allow this to happen with apparent ease. The message here is: know your rights and defend all positions in our schools. Defending positions is foremost the responsibility of the school community.”
She asks Prime Minister Tony Abbott to “talk true” and fully implement Gonski but also calls for a measure that she acknowledges will be unpopular.
“According to the government, over the next 50 years federal spending on education will fall in real terms and that will surely mean public schools will suffer,” she said. “I’m not going to be popular but if public institutions are to be properly funded a fully independent, comprehensive and fully consultative review of our tax system is needed.”