For many casual teachers perhaps it is THE MOST VEXED QUESTION of all, especially here, in Victoria, if you are located within metropolitan Melbourne, some agencies have, it seems, locked up significant tracts of regions with "exclusive contract provider" deals, for which the school pays a hefty fee. Most agencies also take a considerable percentage of the casual relief teacher's pay.
Personally, I have never used an agency to get casual teaching work. I have initiated contact with schools myself and gained employment, that soon became regular work. It has been an easy and painless process!
I have some very real concerns about working as a casual relief teacher, through an agency.
Firstly, I want to earn the maximum amount I can for the set hours of work I undertake each week. I don't want an effective pay cut through losing money to an agency, whose true purpose is to make a profit themselves. A profit, that serves them much better than it does the teacher they contract to work for them. The agency is actually the teacher's primary employer, the school, simply the location they are sent to work!
I like to have the peace of mind that, if I have the misfortune to have an accident at work, then I am dealing directly with the school and Department of Education, not with an Agency, to ensure I am properly covered under Workcover.
Similarly, I know the Department of Education will automatically pass on pay rises as per any Industrial Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding, delivered to Victorian Teachers and Schools and that my Superannuation and any long service leave I accumulate, can be delivered and funded, without fear that an agency may not have been putting aside adequate on costs to cover such expenses. An agency may fall behind with my superannuation contributions, then it is up to me alone to have the matter resolved, whereas the Department of Education is mandated to comply on these things. Sadly not all small businesses or large multinational corporations, which is what Teacher Agencies essentially are, have the perfect record when it comes to the delivery of up to date superannuation payments, prompt passing on of pay increases, let alone demonstrated capacity to support those injured in the workplace and liaise with Workcover only from an employer's viewpoint.
As a long term and active member of the Australian Education Union, I pay my union dues and expect the union to represent me thoroughly, should I need their services. This is not difficult when a member is employed directly through a school or the Department of Education. Where the water becomes murky is when an agency is deemed to be the Primary Employer of the teacher and the school the teacher is working at, merely the secondary employer. Technically the AEU only has jurisdiction to negotiate on behalf of a member with a school or the Department of Education. They sign Industrial Agreements and more to that effect. If a teacher is having problems with any agency, then essentially they are on their own to negotiate, or even take a concern to Fair Work Australia, should there be any major breaches of their contractual arrangement, or events where a teacher believes they are being discriminated against in any way, from gender, to age and beyond.
Now I am not saying here that all teaching agencies are evil, or even dodgy, but it is the case of "let the buyer beware". At very least, expect your agency, should you choose to go down that path of employment, to truly represent your interests. This includes offering you professional development in order to comply with the regulations determined by The Victorian Institute of Teaching. They will have sufficient funds to cover your on costs and superannuation and be both au fait and compliant with Workcover legislation and processes, as well as relevant Industrial Awards and Memorandums of Understanding pertinent to the industry they are acting as the sub contracting agency for.
They should pass on pay rises as they are delivered and inform you of your rights to breaks and maximum numbers of yard duties to be worked in any one week if employed for the week in a single school. They should make it clear to the school they serve, it is unreasonable for CRTs to do more than two yard duties in any given week and ensure you are getting a minimum of 30 minutes free of duties for a lunch break. Moreover, in noting that you are only employed for the duration of classes at the school, they should be ensuring teachers contracted to their agency are not given yard duty before of after school, as the teacher will not be paid for work beyond those hours!
They should be supportive of their contracted staff in the instance of complaints registered against an individual teacher within a workplace and ensure the teacher gets internal support from the agency and a right to having their case/point of view heard at the school level, especially where the teacher has a demonstrated record of excellent service and work. CRTs are vulnerable to students misbehaving, being misunderstood and even verbally or physically attacked in the line of duty. Most complaints can be readily resolved at the local level and if the teacher has actually been involved in genuine misconduct, I am presuming their contract with the agency would be null and void, as a result. Too often I have heard Casual Relief Teachers complain that a student has accused them of something and they had no opportunity to redress the complaint, which they could have easily set straight. As a result they were never employed at that school again, or worse, work supplied by the agency fell away or ceased all together!
Essentially if a casual teacher chooses to gain employment through an agency, they need to realise they are working for and through the agency they have employed to represent their interests (essentially of access to work in schools where the agency has signed a contract to act as a sub contractor and provider of casual relief staff) and not be naive about the fact the school is NOT THEIR PRIMARY EMPLOYER, The agency is!
Working directly for a school, communication lines tend to be between the individual teacher and the Daily Organiser, with occasional contact with the Principal as needed. In between there are all levels of school hierarchy in relation to curricula and student year levels or similar. As an individual casual teacher, I do my own bidding. I know the schools I work at must comply with Industrial Awards and Agreements, pay Super and have Workcover insurance premiums up to date. I know the AEU still represents me without any complications of an outside Primary Employer. School staff have been particularly supportive and helpful to me as I carry out casual work assigned to me.
Too often I hear of agencies, who fail to liaise sufficiently with the schools they have contracts with, to reinforce that their casual workforce at that school is a vital element in keeping the school running smoothly and that their CRTs must be valued and seen as integral to and a part of effective education delivery and not treated as second class, disposable teachers. Regular CRTs in any school are always an advantage. They are familiar with school polcies and processes and also become familiar with classes and eventually build a relationship and have the confidence and support as well as respect from the students they teach, Some agencies do encourage CRTs to be regularly used at one or two schools. Others send an individual teacher to large numbers of schools, with no guarantee of regularly working at a couple of schools, should they wish to.
I choose to work in as few schools as possible. It has worked well for me, as I work only within three schools, but primarily within one of those schools, who have used me on a very regular basis for the last six years.
I seldom hear those of us that work directly with a school complain about our conditions or lack of regular work, I do however hear so many casual teachers employed by and through agencies express their frustration and anger over the degree of powerlessness they have, when it comes to many aspects of their work.
I believe all casual teachers can choose to be their own agent when it comes to finding and maintaining casual work. The only reason Teacher Agencies proliferate in Victoria is because casual teachers choose to employ their services!
Even schools that have signed exclusive contracts with agencies, could not manage staff absences, if no casual teachers were available through the agencies. We have the power to improve our own work/life circumstances, by choosing to work independant of agencies.
I believe agencies have been a major impairment to the improvement of conditions and pay, as many CRTs see the agency, rather than the AEU, as the equivalent of an outside representative for them in the workplace. Arguably agencies themselves are as hamstrung as the CRTs they set out to serve. They too may not have their contract renewed if they push too hard for better conditions for the teachers they represent. I maintain my faith in the AEU alone, when it comes to genuine industrial representation and in voicing and resolving our concerns!