ACT forced to negotiate with bursars
By Sue Bull
CANBERRA — School bursars, locked out of schools three weeks ago for banning extra duties, have forced the ACT government to agree to upgrade their wage classification. The breakthrough in the two-and-a-half-year dispute came after bursars picketed the ACT Legislative Assembly for more than a week.
On August 9, a petition of 3000 people calling on the government to acknowledge that bursars are underpaid was presented to the opposition leaders in the Legislative Assembly, Kerry Tucker (ACT Greens) and John Stanhope (ALP).
The first Department of Education offer was rejected by bursars at a meeting on August 10. When the department agreed to review its offer and continue negotiating, the bursars agreed to return to normal duties.
Tim Gooden, ACT government section secretary for the Community and Public Sector Union, said: "The first offer was rejected because it started below the bursars' current salary range, and it had strings attached.
"For nearly three years, the department has been using these workers to implement 'school-based management', which means they've had to perform at least 10 duties on top of those they were doing previously. ACT primary school bursars receive only $29,000 per year for work that is equivalent to running a large business single-handed."
Bursars returned to work after a half-day strike on August 11. They agreed to perform all normal duties, but not to perform extra duties not paid for. The next day, the department started sacking bursars again to force them to perform the extra duties.
The CPSU sought an urgent hearing in the Australian Industrial Relation Commission. The commission asked the bursars to perform the extra duties while negotiations continue, and to report back to the commission on August 18.
The Liberal minister, Bill Stefaniak, told the Canberra Times that ACT bursars were the highest paid in the country. Gooden told Green Left Weekly, "ACT bursars are paid at least $5000 to $6000 less per year than their counterparts in other public and private sector schools. A quick check of awards and agreements in other states shows that the same job starts at $35,000.
"The department has lost a lot of trust. The minister lying to the public is not helping it.
"If the government doesn't negotiate in good faith, or continues to provoke the dispute, I will ask all of our members in the ACT public service to begin industrial action."