Members arriving for the 26th Uniting Church Queensland Synod meeting at Alex Park Conference Centre on the Sunshine Coast were greeted with 30 peaceful and vocal protesters from the Queensland Independent Education Union (QIEU).
The Union was demonstrating in support of Shalom Christian College employees who are rejecting Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and seek a union collective agreement.
The Union claims that under the proposed AWAs teachers’ weekly hours of work would be increased, non-contact time would be no longer guaranteed and teachers’ annual leave would be reduced to four weeks.
Shalom College is an activity of Congress Community Development and Education Ltd, an independent corporation with links to the Uniting Church in Australia.
It is governed by an independent Board and the Synod of Queensland has no direct control over the governance of the College or the conduct of its day-to-day activities.
Moderator of the Queensland Synod Rev Dr David Pitman said that the Uniting Church, both nationally and within Queensland, has adopted a strong stance in relation to some aspects of the new industrial relations legislation.
“The Uniting Church is concerned that the legislation provides inadequate protection for employees overall and could leaves unscrupulous employers with the opportunity to deal unfairly and unjustly with employees in certain situations,” Dr Pitman said.
“The Uniting Church is also deeply concerned about the potential impact of this legislation on the wellbeing of individual workers and their families.”
“As a major employer in its own right, the Uniting Church maintains an excellent record of employer-employee relationships.”
Assistant General Secretary of the QIEU Ros McLennan said that Union membership at Shalom College is nearly 100% and that a series of union collective agreements have been in place for almost 10 years.
In a Fact Sheet presented to Synod members arriving at the Conference Centre the Union said, “Staff and their unions are not standing in the way of the Board’s objective of delivering quality education to Shalom Christian College students; rather staff ask to be treated with dignity, respect and as partners in this shared endeavour.”
Dr Pitman said that while the church has a strong policy on the current industrial relations legislation, the church also has an unswerving commitment to ensuring that Indigenous people and Aboriginal and Islander agencies within the church are able to exercise their activities in an autonomous and independent manner.
“Our commitment to the right of self-determination in this matter is unequivocal and those with questions about the specific aspects of the workplace negotiations at Shalom Christian College should address those directly to the College Board,” Dr Pitman said.
Dr Pitman said he had consulted with members of the Shalom College Board and believes the Board is committed to deal justly and fairly with the staff and is seeking to negotiate new workplace agreements in an open and transparent manner.
“Our support for the Board of Shalom Christian College in this instance in no way diminishes our concerns and criticism regarding the current industrial legislation.”
Dr Pitman said the Uniting Church is proud of Shalom Christian College and all that it has achieved for and on behalf of Indigenous children.
Both the QIEU and the Uniting Church have appealed for further negotiation between the Shalom Christian College Board and the staff.
The Union said, “Professional educations and school staff have consistently asked that their working rights and conditions remain secured to enable them to give their full attention and energies to supporting and nurturing their students.”
Dr Pitman said, “We would encourage all stakeholders to enter into this particular process of negotiation in relation to the workplace agreements with open minds and a real desire to participate in ensuring that Shalom College is able to pursue its vision and achieve its goals and employees are treated with fairness and justice.”
Photo : One of the demonstrators preaches to the Uniting Church