NSW teachers vote to strike

Issue 

NSW teachers vote to strike

By Paul Oboohov

SYDNEY — By a vote of 98%, NSW teachers at statewide stop-work meetings on November 10 endorsed a wage campaign of 10%, backed by a 24-hour strike on November 23. The meetings had record attendances of a total of 25,000 teachers, half the work force.

The claim and strike are prompted by other NSW public servants obtaining pay rises (fire brigades 10-21%, police 20.25% over two years) above what teachers were originally asking for. The government initially said that the budget for teachers' pay could not go above 6%.

The teachers put in a supplementary claim for 10% on November 1. The government is now offering 8%. The dispute is a test case of whether the NSW enterprise bargaining legislation can stop flow-ons.

The NSW legislation does not allow amended claims for the length of an enterprise bargaining contract. However, the government has been too clever by half, and has dragged out negotiations. There are no legal obligations until the NSW Industrial Commission registers the agreement, which has yet to occur in this case.

Minister for education Virginia Chadwick has created a media blitz and faxed schools, aiming at creating a favourable impression of the government's case with teachers. The director-general of education wrote to all teachers. All to no avail. The size of the stop-work meetings and the extremely high vote have shaken the minister, according to John Hughes, publicity officer for the NSW Teachers' Federation.

Teachers' pay has fallen behind inflation over the 1980s and into the 1990s, according to Hughes. He said that governments paid for improvements to education out of the savings from this.

Cuts in teaching staff have loaded significantly more work onto teachers. Hughes said increasing poverty has meant an increase in the level of violence and drugs, and a perceptible increase in hungry and tired students in schools in recent years, all of which has put extra demands on teachers.

Hughes added that productivity bargaining is particularly difficult in teaching, given that teachers do not take money for their services from parents. The NSW Teachers' Federation is opposed to enterprise bargaining on a school-by-school basis, and continues to bargain on an industry basis.