Teachers at almost 600 schools across NSW and the ACT are threatening to take industrial action this term.
The move follows a breakdown in negotiations between the teachers union and Catholic education employer over a pay deal for Catholic school teachers.
Complicating this matter is a clause cited by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) which refuses workplace disputes being referred to the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
However, the Independent Education Union (IEU) claims this is a new, and unacceptable, position by the CCER, and has now applied to the FWC for permission to give its members a vote on whether they should strike this term.
“We’ve always abided by the law, even when we think they’re wrong, but now the CCER are saying that not only will we deny you right to enforce your own agreements, we’re going to stop you protesting about it,” he said.
“This is Work Choices by stealth, which is aiming to deny workers any rights whatsoever”.
Quessy said that if the industrial action proceeds, there is a strong prospect of stop work action that could involve half or even full day strikes.
“If we were talking about a half day stop work, our members are now so angry about the CCER trying to stop them that I’d be under serious pressure to turn this into a series of full-day strikes,” he said.
The CCER has called the union’s threat “unacceptable” and says it represents “a direct attack on jobs in Catholic schools”.
The commission’s executive director, Tony Farley, has pleaded with the union to back down, arguing industrial action “couldn't come at a worse time” as the Catholic system deals with funding issues.
“Every dollar spent fighting in the Commission is a dollar not spent on teaching in the classroom,” Farley said in a statement.
“We’re urging the Union to rethink its priorities to ensure teachers can begin receiving their higher pay and benefits as soon as possible. Let’s focus instead on the real challenges facing Catholic education as we confront expected changes to our funding”.