NSW teachers are not only against the Labor government's staffing changes in public schools: they oppose the Department of Education's (DET) move to strip union representatives from selection panels determining teacher transfers.
In December 2007, the government announced radical changes to the method by which teachers are allocated to schools across the state. The procedure was no longer to be determined by a centralised system that, previously, had facilitated teacher transfers and ensured teachers were represented by their union delegate on a selection panel for promotions — including to positions of principals, deputy and assistant principals, as well as some classroom teacher vacancies.
One of the main concerns of teachers is the role their union, the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF), will play in the selection process under the new arrangements. Previously, all union delegates received thorough training by their employer, the DET, in selection panel procedures. No selection panel for promotions could be convened without union delegates taking part. This guaranteed that the interests of union members were represented.
In rural, regional or isolated areas teachers live and work in the same community. Having the union representative on a selection panel ensured that the community's interests were also taken into consideration.
On May 30, teachers at the Kyogle High School and Delroy College in Dubbo took two hours' strike action in the fight to have a union representative on the selection panel for their next principal.
NSWTF north coast organiser Nicole Major said on May 29: "Teachers are outraged and insulted at the fact that they have been removed from the interview panel for all promotions' positions. The panel will be made up of the School Education Director, a Principal from another area and a parent representative. It takes away the voice of teachers in this important decision.
"This is an experienced, committed and community-focused staff. They know better than anyone what is needed for the best educational outcomes of the students. The DET say that these new [government-imposed] procedures give more power to the local community in selecting staff. How can that be the case when they are removing the representative of the local teachers from the selection panel?"
Teachers at four Port Macquarie area schools demonstrated in solidarity with their colleages in Kyogle and Dubbo, striking for two hours as well.
Some 40,000 teachers across NSW took strike action for 24 hours on May 22, sending a message to education minister John Della Bosca.
Teachers are prepared to continue to take action until the DET decides to negotiate an industrial agreement that is fair and equitable for every public school in NSW.
At the next NSWTF state council meeting on June 14, 300 state councilors will decide on the next phase of the campaign to ensure that there is an active and strong union presence that supports their rights at work.
[Noreen Navin is a NSW state councillor in the NSWTF and vice-president of Canterbury Bankstown Teachers Association.]