By Norrian Rundle
MELBOURNE — Teachers voted unanimously for a campaign against budget cuts and a breach of their award restructuring agreement at a stop-work meeting here on August 20. The campaign will include bans on school closures, new education policies and sending students' results to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Board. The leadership of the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association (VSTA) had been under pressure from branches for a strong campaign proposal.
After the meeting, angry teachers marched on Parliament House, where education minister Barry Pullen refused to meet a delegation.
Pullen has told unions that cuts of $125 million (following last year's $105 million cut) will be carried out at three levels. The first includes breaking staffing and conditions agreements and cutting the administration of the School Support Teaching Service. If not enough money is saved through this, class sizes and face-to-face teaching hours will be increased, resulting in a 12% cut in staffing and the loss of 2400 teaching jobs.
Currently, secondary teachers in Victoria have a weekly teaching load of 22 48-minute teaching periods and a maximum class size of 26. Teachers in technical schools have 23 periods and a maximum class size of 23. Level two cuts aim to increase this load to the national average outlined in the Dawkins Plan — 25 periods and class sizes of 28-29.
The second issue in the stop-work was brought to a head on August 8 when the Industrial Relations Commission of Victoria handed down its decision on a union appeal against the government's refusal to implement elements of career restructuring agreed upon earlier.
The government had delayed putting in place a new promotional position for advanced skills teachers, but the commission amended the definition of such teachers' duties to force them to cover several schools simultaneously. This would fit in with government plans to cut back the Support Teaching Service. The commission also restricted eligibility for the advanced skills position, made it a limited tenure position and suggested that pay rates may be varied later.
Many teachers doubt the VSTA leadership's will to carry out the campaign. The leadership opposed a call for half-state, half-day stoppages in the two weeks following the state budget, claiming it had a program of regional stoppages worked out even though the campaign committee had yet to meet. However the formation of local campaign committees could give spine to the campaign.