By Adam Hanieh
ADELAIDE — Nearly 2000 teachers from schools in the central and western suburbs rallied in the city on May 15 in the third rolling stoppage by SA teachers in as many weeks. The stoppages are part of a campaign to secure improved work conditions and a 15% wage rise under a federal award.
The rally was addressed by speakers from the SA Institute of Teachers and student representatives from the Parks High School, which is facing closure. The school serves one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in SA and has long been regarded for its ability to meet the needs of people who don't fit within the traditional school setting.
Jan Lee, a teacher at Thebarton Senior College and ex-general secretary of the SAIT, called on teachers to be prepared for an escalation of industrial action. SAIT will ballot members in the coming week for another statewide full-day stoppage if the government continues to refuse negotiations.
The government pressured school principals to keep schools open during the stoppage despite the fact that in most schools close to 100% of teachers observed the strike. The government's media campaign tried to discredit the stoppage by calling a school open even if it meant a handful of students sitting in the library with one teacher.
SAIT met the government's strategy with pickets, which were highly successful. A teacher at Thebarton Senior College told Green Left that the decision to keep the school open with a modified program was changed after the SAIT branch voted unanimously to picket the school.
In the week before the stoppage, both the federal and state Industrial Relations Commissions recommended that the state government and education workers negotiate an interim agreement, which could be registered in both systems. This would be without prejudice to a final decision on a federal award. The recommendation was accepted by the SAIT but flatly rejected by the government.
Minister of education Rob Lucas' offer of a 12% wage rise and no increase in class sizes was rejected by over 90% of teachers in a secret ballot because it would have locked them into the state award system for two years. At the end of the two year period, SA wages would again be at the lowest level in the country.
The government offer also failed to include measures to reduce class sizes, which are now untenable as a result of funding cutbacks over the last few years. SAIT has refused to separate workload and conditions from a wage rise.