Rachel Wilson

Learning Skills and Assessment Unit teacher, Melbourne Polytechnic

We worked with the union to stop our management increasing our teaching load to 1000 hours – which would have totally contradicted our agreement. The AEU really gave me the power to make a difference.

I joined the AEU when I started teaching at TAFE, but it wasn’t until the TAFE skills reform and then the funding cuts that I really got motivated to take a leadership role in our sub-branch. That’s when we started to see people losing their jobs, fees becoming so high that many of our students couldn’t afford to study. I thought we could do more collectively to address some of our workplace issues. It was the perfect time for us to fire things up!

Our sub-branch made sure we had a strong physical and electronic presence by setting up a membership database, writing regular newsletters, organising events, establishing new noticeboards and creating an online information portal. These communication channels made things easier when issues really started to come up, like people being made redundant and trying to manage workload pressures.

We held meetings with members at different campuses, and we talked to people individually as issues arose. Then I joined the institute’s Consultative Committee, so I could start feeding things back to management.

Real change has happened.

At the end of 2014, we succeeded in getting management to postpone any redundancies until we had a clearer picture of the new state government. If redundancies happen, we want them to be genuine and necessary.

At the end of last year, the CEO was pushing ahead with this idea that we’d all increase our teaching load to 1000 hours, which contradicted our workplace agreement. It was a really stressful start to the year but we voted to take protected industrial action with a work ban, and management backed off. That was a really important victory for us.

Being in a union gives you that feeling of having the power to make a difference. It’s easy to feel powerless – and we have felt that on my occasions with the Liberal government’s hostility to TAFE. But then you get a victory like putting a stop to the 1000 teaching hours and realise you can stand up and say, “This is not fair.”

I think it’s fantastic that there are so many AEU staff who are women, and at a leadership level. That’s really motivated me to take on an active role as a union representative. It was great to be part of the Anna Stewart Memorial Project, a two-week training program for women unionists. It was such an amazing opportunity to learn and feel inspired.

I’ve experienced a lot of personal and professional growth from being in the union. I’ve learned how to disagree with people in a way that’s respectful, and to interact with all levels of the organisation and see things from different perspectives. That’s helped me to realise what’s fair and reasonable, and to identify what you really need, in order to do your job well.

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