Victorian teachers need better working conditions

April 1, 2017

Between 40% and 50% of graduate teachers leave teaching within the first five years. Surveys reveal that they feel burnt out, unsupported, frustrated and disillusioned. Research shows that long-serving teachers are retiring early — if they can afford to — and most are feeling utterly spent.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) conducted a survey last year of 13,000 Victorian Australian Education Union (AEU) members. It revealed that Victorian teachers work about 53 hours a week and principals about 60 hours a week.

The ACER report adds “About half of support staff are able to complete work during their formal working hours and of those who do work at school outside their paid attendance hours, they typically work an additional 2.6 hours.”

Many long-serving teachers seek individual solutions to the exhausting workload by working part-time, if they can afford it. Teachers, who are members of a union should not have to seek individual solutions.

The survey also revealed that stressed and overworked teachers cannot perform at their best. Consequently students are directly affected and the quality of education is compromised.

Many AEU members enthusiastically participated in drafting a log of claims that highlighted the need for improvements in working conditions. Two core claims in the log addressed the workload issue: smaller class sizes and a reduction in allotments.

But the proposed EBA does not give AEU members better working conditions. It does not give them the ability to be the teachers they want to be. The pay rises do not compensate for the lack of work-life balance.

The log asked for a reduction in working hours of two hours a week or 80 hours a year. It also asked for a corresponding reduction in corrections and preparation.

How can we win better conditions, better state education?

The Victorian government is in trouble. It is mired in scandals and dealing with other industrial campaigns. The last thing it needs is industrial war with its teachers, especially in the lead up to elections next year.

They want and need a quick resolution. They will not take any of the modest offers in this deal off the table, because, they have more to lose than AEU members. AEU members do not need to rush, particularly if it means selling themselves short.

Alongside the industrial campaign, a publicity campaign could explain their intentions and actions. Parents understand class sizes and how they directly impact on their kids. They will also see how overworked teachers cannot deliver the best education.

This is a campaign that the union needs to continue for young teachers, AEU members and students.

[Mary Merkenich is an AEU Branch Councillor and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]

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