An estimated 15,000 teachers rallied in Hyde Park and marched to New South Wales parliament on May 4 to demand better pay and conditions. It was their second strike in six months.
“What do we want? More than thanks! When do we want it? Now!” was the teachers’ main chant as they marched down Macquarie Street wearing red T-shirts. “Teachers are burning out. That’s why we’re walking out”, “Make education great again”, “Scomo funds preachers, not teachers”, and “Yes, we will strike again, until you listen to us” were just some of the colorful placards.
Thousands more teachers struck and protested at 15 regional rallies around the state. More than 250 schools were closed for the day.
The NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) walked out last December over the same issues. With the national inflation figure at 5.1% per cent, it is pushing for a pay rise of between 5–7.5%.
Premier Dominic Perrottet’s NSW Coalition has kept the public sector pay cap of 2.5% in place. It claims it will be reassessed in the state budget in June, but has not given an indication by how much.
Teacher Nancy Penfold from Marrickville Public School told the Sydney rally that teachers wanted to improve conditions for students. “Kids deserve qualified teachers in every classroom. Teachers [deserve] better working conditions and a competitive salary that will attract and retain the teachers we need,” she said.
Uralla Central School principal Michael Rathborne from the New England region, who has taught for more than 30 years, said: “Things have never been worse, when it comes to staffing our schools. Both my deputy and I now far too regularly take classes to avoid minimal supervision. We do that to help our staff because the burden is too large.”
NSWTF president Angelo Gavrielatos said the government has had enough time to resolve the dispute, adding: “We’ve been very patient, the government must act.” He told the rally that the union had received support from unions across the country and globally.
A Sydney high school teacher spoke to Green Left: “There is a critical shortage of teachers in NSW schools. This goes back to before the pandemic. Teachers are disillusioned with their excessive workloads and low pay. They are now often considering other career options.
“We also need more specialist teachers to tackle problems of low literacy. Children are coming into secondary schools with only level three reading levels, as a result of social problems they face.
“We also urgently need more money from the federal government for public education. All the funds from the Coalition federal government are going to private schools.
“Today’s strike is important for our campaign for proper pay and conditions, and for adequate funding for the public school system as a whole,” she said.
A Sydney primary school teacher told GL that teachers have excessive workloads. “Seven in 10 teachers in a recent union survey of 10,000 members found that their workload is unsustainable. Young people are leaving the profession, subject areas are not being filled and staff are being forced to teach out of their areas of expertise.”
They added that the “complexity of the work had increased over the past 10–15 years”. Teachers are putting in large amounts of out-of-hours time and have to complete ongoing compulsory training too.