AO, AO it’s off to work we go

Support staff from Nemarluk School

Industrial Officer Mick McCarthy explains conditions for school-based support staff.

The working conditions of support staff in schools vary depending on how they are employed. Broadly, there are two different categories of employment: Workers employed by the school council, usually on a casual basis, and those employed by the Department of Education (DoE) as Administrative Officers (AOs).

School Council employees

Workers employed by the school management council have pay and conditions based on the Educational Services (Schools) General Staff Award. These staff are typically employed on a casual basis, and many schools take advice on employment conditions from the NT Chamber of Commerce.

To provide advice to members employed in this way, the AEU NT office would need to see a copy of the contracts or letters of appointment.

Conditions of School-Based AOs

AOs employed by DoE are covered by the NTPS “general” Enterprise Agreement 2017-2021. This EA covers employees in administrative grades across the entire NTPS. Any AO positions within a school at level 5 or above are deemed to be on office-based conditions and are 100% (standard full-time) roles.

Within schools there are unique employment arrangements for admin officers at levels 1 to 4, spelled out in Schedule 2 of the agreement. School-based AOs can be employed on a 92%, 96% or 100% arrangement.

If employed as an AO at 92%, employees are required to work 6 hours and 15 minutes per school day. If employed as an AO at 96%, they are required to work 7 hours and 21 minutes per school day. If employed at 100% that also means 7 hours and 21 minutes, but workers don’t get the 12 weeks off per year during school holidays like their 92% and 96% colleagues.

The most frequent question we get in the office is about employee breaks. For AOs in schools, start times are directly linked to the opening of the school and a meal break should occur not more than five hours later. Meal breaks are unpaid and must be at least 30 minutes long. The length of a meal break is also negotiable with the line manager.

A major difference between the conditions of AOs and teachers is that AOs are eligible for overtime. For example, if an AO is required to work for longer than five hours continuously, they are eligible for overtime until a meal break occurs.

Similarly, AOs are entitled to overtime if they are required to work more than their maximum allocation of weekly hours, unlike teachers who routinely work much longer than their notional 36 hours and 45 minutes.

The length of the meal break (along with the start time, which will be connected to the duties of any given role and the school’s opening time) determines what an individual’s finishing time will be. It follows that 4:21pm might be an accurate finish time for some AO roles, however a good degree of variation is entirely possible in every school. A finishing time of 4:21 may apply to large numbers of AOs and other classifications in the other Departments but would be overall unusual in schools and does not apply to teachers at all.

Conversions between 92%, 96% and 100% are catered for in the EA and can be initiated by either the Department or the individual, but only implemented with the employee’s consent.

Many other conditions are broadly the same as those of teachers, but our advice is not to make assumptions and seek confirmation and/or advice as needed.

Nearly all school support staff are eligible to join the AEU and if you are in this category, we encourage you to become members to ensure your rights are upheld.

This article was first published in the Term 2, 2020 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.