Teachers in New South Wales public schools are committed to an ongoing campaign of legal, political and industrial action to secure salary justice and maintain rights and conditions that have been achieved through past struggles.
The new NSW education minister, Verity Firth, has been presented with the NSW Teachers' Federation (NSWTF) proposal for an industrial agreement on staffing public schools in two meetings.
The case was put to Firth for the necessity of a state-wide staffing agreement that restores teachers' rights to transfer between positions. A unilateral move by the ousted education minister, John Della Bosca, stripped transfer rights completely.
The opportunity now presents itself for Firth to implement a new direction in public education. However, instead of a fresh policy approach under the new premier, Nathan Rees, public school teachers are seeing the attack on their conditions worsen.
The current school and TAFE award expires on December 31. The negotiation period has opened and the Department of Education and Training (DET) has proposed an appalling set of trade-offs in return for a 4.8% salary increase on January 1, 2009, 3.5% on January 1, 2010 and 2.7% on January 1, 2011.
The productivity gains that have been characterised by the DET as the "least-worst list of employee-related cost savings" for schools include:
Sick leave cut from 22 full pay and 22 half pay days per year to 10 days per year;
Changes to workers' compensation entitlements that reduce payments to teachers;
Teachers must exhaust all long-service leave before taking any leave without pay;
Teachers who develop serious illness whilst on long service leave will no longer be able to access sick leave;
Teachers will be paid on a five-days-per-week basis instead of seven days as currently applies;
Permanent teachers on leave without pay who undertake casual teaching will no longer be paid at their current rate. Instead a lower casual flat rate will be introduced, meaning that a teacher of many years' experience will be paid at the same rate as a first-year-out teacher;
Generally, lower casual rates will apply;
The last two days of term four in each year will be student-free school development days;
The travel allowance for casual teachers will be abolished;
All other allowances will be limited to 2.5 per cent per annum increase.
The proposed trade-offs for TAFE are equally as galling with increases in direct teaching hours of up to 40% in some courses, which will drastically reduce teaching hours for part-time and casual teachers. Reductions in sick leave provisions and other leave entitlements will apply also.
On October 28, NSWTF lodged a claim in the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to seek a 5% increase to salaries and allowances (in line with inflation). In light of the current economic instability, NSWTF is also seeking a two year, as opposed to three year, term for the new award.
At the October 25 NSWTF council meeting, more than 350 delegates supported the claim lodged with the IRC while the trade-offs proposed by the DET were vehemently condemned. However, a considerable number of delegates felt that serious industrial action needs to occur to send a clear message to the government that teachers will not accept the trade-offs for what they are, in effect, a cut in real wages.
The NSWTF has proposed a two-hour stop-work meeting on November 19, which will deliver a report on the negotiations for members to vote on. While this is a necessary part of the campaign to inform and involve members, it cannot replace the power of a state-wide march on parliament.
The tired old strategy of lobbying MPs, sending letters of protest and placing our faith in education ministers has failed time and time again. The need for concerted and serious action is evident to most teachers.
On October 30, teachers at Kingsgrove High School voted to commit to industrial action to achieve salary justice. They are prepared to support industrial action when school starts in 2009 (an idea already mooted by the NSWTF leadership) if the state government does not fund a
salary increase without reducing conditions and entitlements.
Teachers see very clearly the need for strong, serious and prolonged strike action if they are to win their demands. The best recourse workers have is to withdraw their labour, especially in a time when the state Labor government is unpopular with the community.
It is incumbent on the leadership of the NSWTF to stand defiant against the arrogance and incompetence of the ALP and loyal to the membership which it is meant to represent.
[Noreen Navin is vice president of Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers' Association and a state councillor of the NSWTF.]