WHEN I started my first job I had no idea what a trade union was. At 18 I walked into the retail position armed with only my tax file number and little understanding of the commercial world. When my first shift ended at 4pm I walked out the door. The next day I was reprimanded by my boss for not staying to tidy the shop floor and waiting until the senior staff had counted the tills. ‘‘We all leave together,’’ she chided.
This practice added about 20 minutes to each shift and with an average three shifts a week that was an extra hour a week that I was not paid. Times that by four years and the company got a fair share of unpaid labour out of me (although I probably paid some back in general pfaffing-about while I was there).
Being just 18 I did not object to my boss’s edict, nor did I question that my boss might be wrong, nor did I look up my rights. I have since learned that this practice goes on a lot, in retail in particular, and feel so cranky that I never even checked what the rule was. But then I didn’t know what a union was, that I might have a union representative or that I even had legal rights in this field.
After all you don’t know what you don’t know.
It wasn’t until years later as a reporter that I learned about the union movement, worker’s rights and the fact that some employers will knowingly, or unknowingly, take advantage of workers. In retrospect I felt angry that no one ever sat me down before I left school and said here’s some of that stuff that might go down once you leave.
Fast forward some years and I recently had to the opportunity to attend a pre-marriage course. I’m going somewhere with this, I swear. It was unbelievably informative about what makes a good relationship, what relationships work and why, conflict resolution, and what to look for in a partner and a relationship. My first reaction when I left was: ‘‘why didn’t someone tell me this at school’’. I should have known all this stuff before I started looking for a potential life partner, not after.
Instead I remember at school being told a great deal that merit awards look good on resumes, when three jobs and three job interviews later I’m yet to have an employer look at my damn portfolio.
During a conversation with a friend recently she succinctly summed up the issue.
‘‘We teach students maths, english, science, art,’’ she said. ‘‘And then we send them out into the world with no knowledge about what the world is really like.’’
I remember at school getting a visit from the Tax Office when we all got tax file numbers (they like to get in young), a visit from the Tampax lady (they also like to get in young) and the local health service who urged us to brush our teeth regularly. And floss. No amount of careers or commerce classes prepared me for doing my own tax return, buying a house, dealing with office politics, cancer prevention, that olive oil easily catches on fire or even how to best handle the irritating plover outside my house. But on the last point I suspect the only solution might be a team of Shooters Party members.
With the federal government penning a new national curriculum maybe it’s time there was a general re-think about the subjects on the curriculum. Teachers everywhere will sigh here and bemoan the fact there is already too much ‘‘curriculum loading’’. They want to stick to basics like literacy and numeracy, quite rightly, and really don’t think it’s their job to teach students about topics like weed management and pool safety. I agree it’s not their job, but there’s plenty of well-meaning groups out there trying to get their message out and pretty regularly cry ‘‘it’s all about education’’.
So why not rethink the entire school day? Could we give our hard working teachers a little more relief time and allow these groups in to spread their particular word, albeit appropriately vetted. Or do we extend the school day so that instead of spending afternoons improving their Xbox skills our young people spend a bit more time getting a few more life skills.
* What do you wish they had taught you at school?