Victorian teachers deserve a better deal

Victorian teachers protest in Melbourne last year.

The Victorian state council of the Australian Education Union (AEU) held a special meeting on April 17 to consider an offer from the Coalition state government to commit to a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).

The AEU and the state government have been in dispute over the EBA for more than two years.

AEU members had previously voted to continue the industrial campaign until their demands for improved working conditions and pay were met. This decision was taken at a mass stopwork meeting of over 12,000 teachers and education support staff on February 14.

Part of the resolution overwhelmingly passed at that meeting read: “That this meeting of education support staff, teachers and principals condemns the Baillieu government for its failure to negotiate in good faith and make a reasonable offer to AEU members in schools on improvements to pay and conditions such as class sizes, face-to-face teaching requirements, contracts and protection of workers in excess.”

The offer presented to the recent AEU council meeting met none of those demands. There are no improvements in class sizes, workload and no measures to reduce contract teaching and the protection for teachers in excess was removed. Also, the pay rates are nowhere near what the AEU officials had been promising its membership.

However, AEU officials have been presenting the offer as a great victory. They have inflated the pay by including the normal wage increments teachers and ES staff would get anyway as they move up the salary scale.

They have also begun their calculations with what AEU members were earning before they got a 2.75% wage rise, which was part of the previous EBA last year.

One of the worst backdowns by the AEU officials was the agreement to remove a small but significant protection contained in previous EBAs for teachers in excess. When a school determines that it has more teachers than its budget can accommodate, it declares those teachers in excess. In the past these teachers were given priority status when applying for new positions. This is only fair because the teachers are “in excess” only because budgets are too tight or student enrolments have fallen.

The government had pressured the union during negotiations to remove this, but it had been repeatedly rejected at union meetings, including the mass stop work meeting on February 14 by the membership. Obviously the AEU officials chose to ignore the wishes of the AEU membership.

AEU officials argue that contract teaching will be reduced because they have an undertaking by the Coalition government to monitor the levels of contract teaching. This same explanation for reducing contract teaching was given when the last EBA was discussed, nevertheless contracts remained at the 18% mark with no significant reductions.

When challenged that the new agreement contains no improvements in class sizes or workload, AEU officials said maintaining current conditions was a win.

The figures are still being intensively studied and the other aspects of the EBA package is being digested, but soon many AEU members will see that what their officials are hailing as a win is a lie.

Members of the rank and file group Teachers and Education Support Alliance will be calling for a “no” vote when AEU members are asked to ratify the proposed EBA.

It will be a tough battle, because many teachers and education support staff want a resolution to this dispute. But when AEU officials show themselves to be less than determined to get the best for members, it is up to members to fight for an agreement that will deliver a better outcomes for students and a better working environment for all AEU members.

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