NSW teachers to stop work over transfer changes

Issue 

Three hundred delegates voted unanimously to take industrial action in response to NSW government changes to staffing procedures in public schools at a March 8 NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) state council meeting.

A stop-work meeting will take place on April 8 at Sky Channel venues across NSW. Participants will vote on a proposal for a 24-hour stoppage.

The action was called after the education department broke from negotiations with the NSWTF for a new Schools Staffing Agreement to be effective from April 28, and announced its policy changes to the media. The department is planning to effectively abolish the centralised staffing transfer system, whereby teachers from remote and disadvantaged schools are advantaged in applying for vacancies within the system.

Through the state-wide transfer model that has operated for decades, the needs of teachers, students and school communities have been balanced. The current arrangements have ensured that every public school student is taught by a trained teacher and guaranteed teacher supply, continuity of curriculum, and stability and security for students and teachers alike. The system guarantees a teacher's democratic right to job security and permanency, and the potential for mobility and professional opportunities.

Under the proposed system, teachers will be forced to compete for jobs in more "desirable" schools. Inevitably, some schools will be left unable to attract and retain teachers. In Western Australia, where the decision to abolish the centralised transfer system is now being reversed, a teacher shortage in more remote/disadvantaged schools has developed. Television advertisements are appearing in NSW appealing for teachers to work in WA.

Under existing staffing provisions, teachers are obliged to remain in the school to which they are appointed for a minimum of three years. This ensures constancy for students and smooth running of faculties and classrooms. It also allows sufficient time for teachers to gain a sound knowledge of the programs and systems in place in each particular school before they may apply to transfer.

Teachers accrue transfer points for each year of teaching, which are weighted depending on the location of the school and other considerations. The higher the number of transfer points, the more priority a teacher's transfer request is given when a vacancy becomes available.

The department proposal would allow principals in most cases to choose the teacher that wanted to fill a vacant position based on "merit", making the centralised system redundant. Principals will also be able to select any staff member to participate on an interview panel to fill vacancies or make promotions, allowing them to bypass the current requirement that a NSWTF representative be included.

The denial of the right for teachers to be represented on panels by their union delegate is of great concern. It sets up a situation where cronyism, nepotism and corruption can undermine the interview process.

There is broad, in-principle support from the Primary Principals Association, the Public Schools Principals Forum, the Secondary Principals' Council and the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations for the NSWTF's opposition to the changes.

The federation has called on the director-general of education to maintain the status quo for a further 12 months to facilitate the formation of joint working parties comprising of the major stakeholders to discuss improving the current staffing model. As there had been no response to the NSWTF plan from the director-general before the March 8 state council meeting, the union's executive proposed that the stop-work meetings consider a broader campaign of industrial action. A protest will also be staged by the NSWTF at the NSW ALP conference in May.

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