SA education workers demand better pay and conditions
By Bronwen Beechey
ADELAIDE — The Australian Education Union (AEU) and the South Australian Liberal government returned to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) on February 15 for the latest round of a long-standing fight over the wages and conditions of the state's 25,000 public education workers.
The AEU state vice-president Janet Giles told Green Left Weekly, "The SA government has completely lost the plot. It seems to be more interested in paying back the AEU for being an effective opposition rather than in being a responsible employer and bargaining in good faith."
The education workers have again revised their claim and are demanding an immediate 10% wage increase, a further 4.2% by the end of the year, improved deals to attract and retain teachers in country areas, relief from excessive workloads and more permanent positions, especially in TAFE and pre-school education.
The AIRC awarded education workers an immediate 4% interim wage increase on December 22, but they are still waiting for its appearance in their pay packets. The union's state president, John Gregory, considers this a deliberate ploy to deny education workers their rights, cause them further financial inconvenience and wear down their spirit.
The AEU lodged its claim for improved conditions, workload and pay in July 1998. Since then, the union has continuously revised its claim, which has ranged from a 14% rise over three years to a 10% pay rise over two years with the balance of funds to be invested in extra staffing and country incentives.
The best offer the government made was in November 1998: a 13% pay rise over nearly four years. The workers rejected that offer in favour of improved conditions for staff and students.
In December 1998, the government withheld funding for 1000 special staff positions as a bargaining tactic, but this backfired when the education workers took industrial action in January 1999. The government was subsequently ordered by the AIRC to release the funding.
In March, the government said it wanted the matter to go to arbitration, a move that education workers identified as another delaying tactic. The arbitration hearing commenced on October 27.
This one of Australia's largest industrial relations cases before the AIRC. More than 50 witnesses are scheduled to appear and the case is expected to run well into May. The AEU is hoping for a decision by July.
SA teachers are amongst the lowest paid in Australia. The union is demanding that they be paid on par with their interstate colleagues and that the SA government make education a policy priority, not an afterthought.