Australian Education Union (AEU) Victoria branch officials should view the results of the recent branch elections as a warning signal, say rank-and-file candidates.
The results, declared by the Australian Electoral Commission on November 2, show that of 48,083 eligible voters, only 7553 voted. More than 25 positions were left vacant due to a lack of candidates.
At the same time, the vote for branch vice president in the secondary sector, which has always been more militant and willing to challenge AEU leaderships, revealed a strong level of discontent with the current leadership. Although incumbent Marino D’Ortenzio was re-elected, he won by just 251 votes.
Mary Merkenich, the Rank & File Educators candidate who stood against D’Ortenzio, told Green Left Weekly that the vote was "reflective of the dissatisfaction among union members with the last round of enterprise bargaining agreement, which did not deliver substantial improvements in teacher or Education Support (ES) staff working conditions".
Merkenich added that the high level of abstention indicated that "AEU members felt uninspired to engage in the process of determining the direction of the union".
In these elections, Rank & File Educators doubled its number on Branch Council, the union’s state body. While the group is small (8 out of 137 councillors), Merkenich said that the group is happy that there will now be more councillors willing to speak up for improved working conditions, better pay and secure work, particularly for ES staff.
The group also plans to promote union action in support of refugees and against the destructive NAPLAN standardised tests.
Merkenich urged more AEU members to get active in the union to make sure it delivers real improvements to members.