A dispute between a NSW Catholic body and teachers union will go to the Fair Work Commission next week after a breakdown in talks over a contentious restructure.
Planned changes to the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office (CSO) will see services streamlined across the Catholic Schools Office, CatholicCare, St Nicholas Early Education and the Chancery.
According to the diocese, new “shared service teams” will oversee human resources, finance, information and communications technology, property, communications and records across the agencies.
However, in a meeting between the CSO and the Independent Education Union (IEU) on Tuesday, the diocese was unable to satisfactorily resolve principals’ concerns over what these changes will mean for their schools.
IEU organiser, Therese Fitzgibbon, told The Educator that Catholic school staff had many questions and concerns around job security, impact on school services and how the planned changes would affect students, parents and school fees.
“At this stage we have been told that about a dozen services will be merged into a shared services model. However, we have struggled to ascertain what this will mean for our 100 members employed in the CSO,” she said.
“We understand that only teaching and learning will remain as an independent entity and other services such as human resources, ICT, finance, facilities and planning, payroll etc. will now come under the auspice of the Bishop.”
Fitzgibbon said this means that in seeking advice and support, principals will no longer be accessing the CSO but rather a new service that would also cover Catholic Care, Affordable Housing, Catholic Development Fund and others.
“Principals are concerned that they will lose the specific school related expert support on which they currently rely. They are fundamentally opposed to the dismantling of the CSO,” she said.
Beyond that, Fitzgibbon said there are “serious questions” relating to funding that have not been answered.
“Given the very strict requirements around section 83C of the Education Act, we have asked how the Diocese will ensure that public money will not in fact be used to prop up other church services including the Chancery,” she said.
“They have been unable to explain to the union how the proposed fee for service model would work.”
Fitzgibbon said principals have “rightly” asked questions about how the change in financial arrangements will impact on school communities.
“Will they be expected to pay for services that are currently provided by the CSO? We do not know,” she said.
“We also note that no consultation has been undertaken with principals, parents or school communities.”
'Many strengths' to planned changes
Bishop Bill Wright said the diocese does not believe there has been “a genuine attempt” by the IEU to settle the matter at the local level.
“The Diocese would like the opportunity to resolve the dispute directly with the IEU and therefore requests that the dispute before the Fair Work Commission be stood over to allow this to occur,” he said in a statement.
“I believe that there is a strong likelihood that your concerns can be addressed at a local level and believe all of our time is better spent trying to resolve the issues this way.”
Wright said there was “no intention to make any changes to existing arrangements for those staff in affected teams, until such time as their shared services manager was appointed”.
He added that the planned changes have many strengths to them, including the avoidance of senior leadership attempting to impose pre-determined structures or solutions which may or may not suit the realities of the individual shared services.
“However I acknowledge that this process is incremental and means that answers to questions emerge gradually and this can lead to some greater sense of uncertainty amongst some staff,” he said.
“I sincerely regret that and we have encouraged any affected staff to take advantage of our free and confidential EAPS counselling services. I and my Diocesan Executive will continue to provide updated information as the process develops.”