Queensland teachers debate class size deal

Issue 

BY BILL MASON

BRISBANE — A statement issued by Queensland Teachers Union members in the Socialist Alliance has sparked considerable discussion among teachers in this state.

Teachers are currently voting on whether to accept the government's enterprise bargaining package, which includes a proposal to reduce class sizes by two over the next four years. The QTU is recommending that teachers should accept the package, and is not planning a strike on September 13 as part of the national day of teacher action.

The statement read in part:

"A reduction of two students in years 4 to 10 by 2007? What about the oversized classes we will face tomorrow? Teachers and students need a significant class size reduction now. Teachers across Australia are taking strike action on September 17. That can also be our opportunity to demand that the state government properly fund public education and improve the learning environment in state schools.

"To participate in the national strike would mean defying industrial laws. [Labor premier Peter] Beattie's laws are unjust and need to be challenged. Trade unionists voted Labor to get away from Bjelke-Petersen's thuggish industrial laws. Beattie has no mandate to re-introduce them. It would be incredibly unlikely that Beattie would take teachers to court in the lead-up to a state election.

"A broad democratic debate should begin now to discuss what to do next. Why have no mass meetings been called to discuss the government's deal? The impression we get from the media is that the deal has already been accepted. This is insulting. The QTU leadership might be enthusiastic about the deal. That doesn't mean we are. It is time to strengthen union organisation in every school so that our voice can be heard. That is the objective of teachers in Socialist Alliance."

Adrian Skerrett, a QTU delegate and Socialist Alliance member, commented to Green Left Weekly on August 28 that "the statement forced the QTU executive to explain ... why members should accept the deal". He said that the statement had provoked debate, circulating on at least 150 schools.

"Many teachers regard the offer as incredibly inadequate. However, many also feel that the government would force us into arbitration, which would be a graveyard for our claim. The executive has scared people with talk of fines and jail for organisers ... The question is whether teachers will feel confident enough to reject the offer outright at this stage.

"We now have a chance for the QTU to participate in a national strike to defend state education. The QTU has so far failed to take full responsibility for campaigning for the quality of public education in Queensland. If we don't take up this struggle, public education will be just like the public health system — state schools will be like public hospitals, a place for the poor only."

From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.

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