Catholic teachers take stopwork action

Issue 

Over 4000 Victorian Independent Education Union (VIEU) members from Catholic schools stopped work for 24 hours on March 7 in support of their enterprise bargaining agreement.

The action was called to send a message to the premier, the government and the broader community about what the benchmark for teacher salaries should be. The government, in their negotiations with the Australian Education Union (AEU), will set the benchmark in this state.

The Dallas Brooks Hall, which holds 2000 people, was overflowing by 10.30am. Members were clearly angry, and supported the official resolution unanimously. The resolution commended the actions of AEU members who have participated in two days of work stoppages and rolling regional actions.

It called on Victorian premier John Brumby to enter into genuine negotiations with the AEU to resolve the wage crisis, and resolved to continue the fight by authorising the VIEU Committee of Management to recommend further action if necessary.

Teachers spoke of the support within their own schools and the fact that Victorian teachers are being poached by NSW.

The Catholic Education Office tried to frighten members into not taking action. They sent out a letter saying the stopwork was illegal. As one speaker pointed out, this simply turned great support for the action into overwhelming support, with three more teachers in his school participating after receiving the letter.

Speakers also made it quite clear that Brumby was out of touch with the community in only offering a pay rise of 3.25%, which is less than inflation. It was pointed out that the whole community, particularly parents, supported teachers in their struggle for a fair pay increase. As the Victorian Labor government just announced a surplus of more that $1 billion, it is clear that they can afford to pay teachers in Victoria what they deserve.

VIEU had responses from the majority of their sub-branches, with over 95% voting unanimously or overwhelmingly in favour of the resolution to take this action. They did not hold a secret ballot as required under Work Choices, and so technically it was illegal. But as one member said: "What are they going to do — jail the lot of us?"

The teachers then marched noisily to Parliament House, where speakers — and the crowd's response — made it very clear that VIEU members are more than prepared to continue their campaign for wage justice for Victorian teachers.