Interview: Crowded Lives
Activists: Life With Brian
Industrial: National Focus
Unions: If These Walls Could Talk
Economics: Beating the Bastards
Media: Three Corners
History: The Brisbane Line
Trade: The Dumping Problem
Review: Frankie's Way
The Locker Room
Spicey and Tart
Tony and Pauline
PNG Bags Plastic
Fighting Words Craig Emerson
The Westie Wing
If you thought exploitation of child labour was a problem only in the third world, think again.
A young relative of mine last year defied parental advice and left school at the first opportunity.
Aged just 14 years and a few months, he soon landed a job at one of the major takeaway food chains.
He was employed on a casual basis as a kitchenhand, but quickly found himself working close to full-time hours.
And the worst sort of hours, usually working past 10 pm and often past midnight. Some mornings he clocks off at 2 am.
Now, when you are part of a team running a busy restaurant into the early hours of the morning - and then have to find your way home when public transport is thin on the ground - you are working an adult job with adult responsibilities.
For this he is paid just $5.60 per hour. And when he turns 16, and is entitled to a pay rise, he will most likely be sacked.
Unions draw a blank
Ask him about his rights at work - or about unions - and he goes blank.
That's no big surprise. Union membership in the private sector is now well below 20%, and young service sector workers are one of the groups missing out.
Unions are working hard, and with some success, to turn this decline around.
But we, as a society, have a responsibility to ensure our young people are educated about their rights and responsibilities when they begin work--which often occurs while they are still undergoing secondary education.
Teaching about unions
That principle of preparing students for the workforce by teaching them about unions and their role in and contribution to society is the basis of the UnionTeach project.
The NSW school curriculum from 2004 will include topics about unions that may be taught across a range of subjects. Students in years 9 and 10 taking Commerce or Work Education will be taught about the role of unions as part of the syllabus.
The UnionTeach project was set up to provide teachers with the resources to address the curriculum content in teaching the basics of industrial relations, including the role and contribution of unions to the whole community.
The aim is to equip teachers with the resources to teach young people what they need to know to make informed decisions about work-related issues.
A team effort
That's a fantastic outcome from a process that began way back in early-2001 at the Labor Council's Annual General Meeting.
After a youth workers forum at the Labor Council's 2001 AGM, where young workers' attitudes to unions were discussed, Labor Council Deputy Assistant Secretary Chris Christodoulou and I got to talking.
We sketched the outlines of a project that would see employment rights and responsibilities taught in schools as part of the core curriculum.
We thought that I could be part of making this aim a reality, as a Labor MLC and former union official.
The idea was not new. Unions and the Labor Council have talked about doing this for decades, but hurdles always got in the way.
So I took the proposal to the Teachers Federation, and they hopped enthusiastically on board. This time I sensed the timing of the project was right.
Teachers on board
The teachers' expertise was crucial in backing the process of getting topics on unions added to the official curriculum.
Labor Council and the Independent Education Union added their backing to the project in 2002. Former Education Minister John Watkins was also supportive.
In December 2002, a project committee was set up by Labor Council. Since then, we have been able to focus on clear goals and set about achieving them.
It was decided that the best resource to help teachers to fulfil the curriculum relating to unions was a website and as a result, UnionTeach was born. The project has developed substantially with the input of those who are directly affected--the teachers.
A submission this year from Labor Council Secretary John Robertson was successful in attaining a grant from Education Minister Andrew Refshauge to develop the UnionTeach website.
The website will provide accessible and up-to-date resources for use by teachers across the State. Its launch next month will allow plenty of time to provide for the new syllabus starting in 2004.
The end result is a credit to all the parties who contributed to UnionTeach.
Given the dedication and belief in the project by all the committee members--Susan Sheather at Labor Council, Peter Walsh of the Teachers' Federation, Peter Bishop of the IEU and myself--I know that the project will succeed.
Once UnionTeach is fully operational, everyone in the labour movement can play their part in helping promote, support and maintain this essential educational resource.
The latest issue of my newsletter, Workers' Voice, is available on my website at www.ianwestmlc.com.au. I am always interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected].
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