Australian teachers to strike over pay & workload

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New South Wales Teachers Federation members vote unanimously at their conference for strike action against low pay and unsustainable workloads

AUSTRALIAN school teachers and principals in New South Wales (NSW) are taking part in a pay strike next Tuesday, December 7th.

The 67,000-member union said on Sunday that the strike is ‘over the government’s failure to address unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries which are contributing to growing shortages of teachers.’

The NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) Council voted unanimously for the 24 hour stoppage at a meeting in Sydney last week.

The decision states: ‘Council determines, following state-wide delegates meetings at which the government’s insistence on the maintenance of the contemptuous 2.5% wages cap and refusal to budge on crippling workloads was roundly condemned and rejected, there is no other option but to escalate our campaign to achieve the pay and conditions teachers and principals deserve, and the profession and students need.’

Members from greater Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Wollongong, the Southern Highlands and the Blue Mountains will rally outside Parliament House in Macquarie St, Sydney next Tuesday.

All other members will rally at designated regional centres across the state.

Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos said the union had exhausted all options over an 18 month period to persuade the government to redress the decline in salaries and working conditions that are contributing to teacher shortages and reducing the attractiveness of the profession.

Those efforts include the commissioning of the independent Gallop inquiry, repeated lobbying of state MPs and an unprecedented paid advertising campaign.

Gavrielatos said the resolution of the dispute is now in the hands of the Premier, Dominic Perrottet.

‘The Perrottet Government is refusing to listen to the warnings of its own education department that unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries of teachers are contributing to growing shortages and turning people off teaching,’ he said.

‘This is about the future of the teaching profession and the quality of education children receive.

‘No student should miss out because of a lack of teachers, but this is what is going to increasingly happen across NSW if the government fails to act.

‘The government’s position has been fixed from day one.

‘They won’t budge from a one-size-fits-all 2.5 per cent wages cap despite their own education department’s warning that teacher shortages exist because other careers pay more competitive salaries.

‘Every year teachers have been asked to do more, and every year their salary has fallen compared to other professions.

‘The Perrottet Government won’t increase the preparation time of all teachers despite their own survey showing only one third of teachers have the time to do their job well.

‘The time teachers have for planning and preparation outside the classroom hasn’t increased since the 1980s for primary teachers and the 1950s for secondary teachers.

‘The number of vacant permanent positions in schools has increased by 80% since June and the Education Minister was warned in July that NSW is facing “a large and growing shortage of teachers”.

‘Members who require additional information about the strike and rally locations should contact their school Federation Representative or local organiser.’

The New South Wales Teachers Federation represents all teachers in New South Wales public pre-schools, infants, primary and secondary schools and TAFE (technical and further education) Institutes. Teachers in Schools for Specific Purposes and Corrective Services are also members.

Membership numbers include 39,000 permanent full-time teachers, about 4,000 temporary teachers, 6,000 casual and unemployed members and 6,000 TAFE teachers. The total membership stands at about 67,000.

Pre-strike statement by Angelo Gavrielatos,

President NSW

Teachers Federation:

‘Politicians and public servants love to talk about “evidence-based policy making”.

‘They trot out the phrase to accompany all sorts of policy pronouncements, as if just saying it provides a guarantee they are doing the right thing.

‘It is even used when all the evidence points in the opposite direction to the plan they are announcing or the decision they have made.

‘This is precisely the situation we are in when it comes to the workload and salaries of teachers and principals, and the statewide staffing crisis.

‘First, we had the independent Gallop inquiry, in February this year, warn the government that the workloads of teachers had reached such a point that without additional release time “much of the quality of practice espoused in government policy documents is simply not attainable in the context of the changing complexities of the educational endeavour”.

‘The inquiry found teachers’ salaries did not reflect their skills and responsibilities and “the salary levels in place and projected for the next three to five years are dangerous for the public standing of the profession, and for the quality of education available to the students of the state’s public schools.”

‘Then we discovered troves of secret Department of Education documents saying the same things – unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries were leading to growing shortages.

‘A briefing in August last year said: “The salary ceiling and perceptions regarding career trajectory may be impeding choices to become a teacher. The demands and expectations on teachers are increasing, while the current rewards, pathways and learning opportunities are not providing enough incentive.”

‘The documents warned NSW could run out of teachers in five years due to plummeting graduate numbers, rising enrollments and a rapidly ageing workforce.

‘But instead of recognising the urgent need to significantly lift salaries, the government is trying to lock in the 2.5 per cent wages cap that has contributed so much to the decline in teachers’ salaries compared to other professions.

‘Instead of recognising teachers’ workloads are unsustainable, turning people off teaching and limiting what can be done for students, they are refusing to increase your release time.

‘The current entitlements haven’t changed for primary teachers since the 1980s and for secondary teachers since the 1950s.

‘Think of how much the demands on teachers have changed in the past four years, let alone the past 40 years.

We must make a stand

‘When governments ignore the facts, the only option is to act. That is why we have taken the decision to hold a 24 hour strike on Tuesday 7th December.

‘If we don’t act now workloads will continue to rise and salaries will continue to fall relative to other professions.

‘The hopes you have of a better work-life balance and a salary that reflects what you know and what you give in your efforts every day will be lost.

‘The chance to improve your lessons and improve your practice through collaboration with your colleagues will be lost.

‘Instead of teaching being the dream job of high achieving young people, it will be something to be avoided.

‘This is about every teacher, in every classroom across NSW. It is also about every student.

‘We cannot have a situation where kids are missing out due to a lack of teachers.

‘If we don’t fix the shortages, how many more children will be left in the playground with minimal supervision or jammed in the back of your merged class because teachers are nowhere to be found?

‘How many more teachers will be asked to teach a subject they didn’t specialise in?

‘Let’s stand together as one on December 7th.

‘We need to do this for each other, for our students and to open the door to all those talented young people out there who we need to be the teachers of tomorrow.’

Meanwhile, the Australian Confederation of Trade Unions (ACTU) has slammed the Scott Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination Bill which opens the door to workplace discrimination by employers.

In a statement last week the ACTU said:

‘The ACTU supports protections for workers and others against all forms of discrimination including against religious belief or activity. Every worker has the right to a safe, healthy, and respectful workplace, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, disability, or other personal attribute.

‘However, the government’s Bill will privilege the rights of religious organisations over individual workers with different (or no) religious beliefs, even where their religious beliefs or activities have no relevance to their job.

‘The Bill will allow religious bodies (such as religious charities, schools, hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation providers) to hire, fire or promote workers based on their religion, regardless of whether their religion is relevant to their job. State laws that provide greater protections for staff in religious schools can be overridden by the Bill.

‘There is real risk that these laws will be used as a “cloak” to discriminate against workers who raise complaints, seek assistance from their union or take other action in their workplaces to stand up for their own rights or the rights of others.

‘The Bill will protect people who make discriminatory religious “statements of belief”, even if they are offensive, inappropriate, and harmful.

‘The Bill will override existing anti-discrimination protections and cause confusion, conflict, and disharmony in workplaces.

‘Unions are deeply concerned that these new laws will undermine the mental health and safety of Australian workers.

‘For example, working women who are subjected to sexist and discriminatory statements by their employers will be deprived of legal protection. The government should be working to make work safer for all workers, not enabling any form of discrimination.’

ACTU President Michele O’Neil said: ‘All workers should be protected from all forms of discrimination at work including on the basis of their religion.

‘However, the Morrison government is trying to take Australia backwards and this Bill will allow employers to make humiliating, inappropriate and harmful comments about women, LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities and a range of other marginalised communities, and completely overrides current anti-discrimination laws.

‘Once again Scott Morrison is failing women. In 2021 he could have legislated all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report but instead he’s introducing a bill that will make work less safe for women.

‘The Religious Discrimination Bill gives exemptions to religious employers to discriminate against workers on religious grounds.

‘We are concerned this will be used by some employers to “cloak” discrimination against workers who raise complaints, seek assistance from their union or take action to stand up for the rights of themselves and others.’