In 1982 Karen Sellenger began teaching humanities in a technical school. She taught full-time in Melbourne’s northern suburbs until she took a “voluntary” redundancy package (VDP) in April 1993. I spoke to Karen, who is now unemployed, about how voluntary this was.
“The school went through a ‘reorganisation.’ After the amalgamation, the new school was 30 staff ‘in excess.’ Of those named, 23 were women!
After being declared ‘in excess,’ I was devastated. I reported to Keilor Downs Secondary College as a Short Term Replacement Teacher (STRT). The school was completely different from Brunswick Tech, which was small. It had 1,420 students, who had to wear a uniform. It was a very different philosophy. I had problems adjusting to that, especially as I was in a situation where I had no status in the school. The administration expected us to get on with the job. They didn’t understand what a change it was to go from planning and teaching your own classes to doing replacement teaching.
We had to mind classes at a moment’s notice. I had to teach woodwork, music drama, science, maths — all things that are out of my area. That, combined with the fact that there was rarely any work left, meant that it was impossible to teach in any meaningful way. There was no job satisfaction.
They certainly worked us. We had to take up to four yard duties a week. We were given between five and six classes per day out of six. If there weren’t enough people absent, I was told to do photocopying so that I would not be idle!
My work life became unbearable. I took some sick leave, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t face going back there.
Taking a VDP was not an easy decision. I’ve got a mortgage, and I knew I wouldn’t just pick up a job straight away. I knew I faced unemployment. But I decided the preferable option was to keep my sanity and face the financial insecurity. Given how miserable I was, I made the right decision.
The hardest thing for me to deal with is the way that the union leadership just betrayed the STRTs. They sacrificed us for the pursuit of a Federal Award. Over the years, I attended all of the stopwork meetings and rallies and saw the union leadership do their best to stifle any different opinions to those of the executive. After 10 years, what have they got? A demoralised membership, where it seems impossible to get them to strike for more than a day. Surely the job of a union leadership should be to encourage union militancy. You’d think they would have had the foresight to predict that days like this would be ahead.”