Teachers from NSW public and Catholic schools have announced that they will walk off the job together for the first time, following an extraordinary joint meeting between the executives of the NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union of Australia (NSW/ACT).
Members of both unions said they will rally in Macquarie Street, Sydney, as well as in regional locations across NSW and the ACT, on June 30 following the failure to resolve an impasse over working conditions and low pay for teachers.
The Federation says the demands and expectations on teachers are increasing, while the current rewards are not providing enough incentive for new teachers to join the profession. It also points out that on average, teacher pay has been falling relative to pay in other professions since the late 1980s and this makes it a less attractive profession for high-achieving students.
In an attempt to resolve the impasse, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet announced the public sector wage cap would rise from 2.5% to 3% this financial year, and 3.5% the next, depending on productivity gains
However, the Federation slammed the revised wages policy, saying it “falls well short of what is needed to address the crisis in NSW schools”, and gave the government a deadline of one week to take meaningful action. On Tuesday, that deadline passed.
‘One profession, one voice, too loud to ignore’
Tens of thousands of public and Catholic teachers across NSW will now walk off the job on June 30 to fight for improved pay and working conditions. Federation president, Angelo Gavrielatos, says that despite the decision to strike, the Federation "remains focused and committed to achieving a breakthrough through genuine negotiations with the government."
"Those negotiations have to involve solutions to the root causes of the teacher shortage - uncompetitive pay and unsustainable workloads," Gavrielatos told The Educator.
“The government's failure, to date, to negotiate a solution to the teaching shortage has brought us to the point of combined action between the two main education unions in NSW and the ACT."
Gavrielatos said next Thursday's strike will be "a demonstration of the depth of anger across the teaching service."
"Marching together will be a massive demonstration of unity and commitment – one profession, one voice, too loud to ignore.”
NSW branch secretary of the Independent Education Union of Australia, Mark Northam, called the decision “an extraordinary moment”.
“We are standing shoulder-to-shoulder because fixing the education crisis in NSW demands no less,” he said.
“The IEUA’s current bargaining for enterprise agreements for teachers and support staff is directly impacted by today’s decision by the NSW Government.”
Northam said the sharply rising cost of living, lack of real wages growth, ever-increasing workloads and the pandemic have caused “crippling staff shortages” in Catholic schools.
“Our members are exhausted and burnt out. The profession is at breaking point,” he said.
“Staff shortages and sinking salaries mean teachers and support staff in Catholic diocesan schools are really struggling. Teachers are leaving the profession and graduates are not entering it,” said Mr Northam.”
‘A political stunt’
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said she was “deeply disappointed” by the unions’ decision to strike.
“This strike is unnecessary and serves no purpose other than as a political stunt that will cause major upheaval for hardworking parents,” Mitchell told The Educator.
“After two and a half years of learning disruption due to COVID-19, another day out of the classroom is the last thing our students need.”
Mitchell said the challenge remains that the union “currently wants the government to forsake the community and common-sense.”
“The government’s priorities go beyond placating unions. Our priorities are building schools, reforming early education and working with the teachers to modernise and grow their profession,” she said.
“This simply cannot happen if we give into union demands. I want to reach a resolution with the union bosses, but they must start working with us and in reality.”
A NSW Department of Education spokesperson urged the unions to call off their strike, pointing to the disruption that school communities have already endured as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, flooding in Term 1 and the previous strike in Term 2.
"We call on the NSW Teacher’s Federation to call off the strike action, especially considering the NSW Government’s announcement in today’s Budget of a boost to the salary increase offered to public sector workers under its wages policy," the spokesperson told The Educator.
"Should industrial action proceed, minimal supervision will be provided where possible for students attending school."
The spokesperson said that while every effort should be made by principals to ensure schools remain open during the action, it is expected that some schools will close.