Victorian teachers still waiting for award
By Elisabeth Thomas
MELBOURNE — At a branch delegates meeting on February 12, Victorian teachers voted for a campaign of industrial action in response to a delay in granting an interim federal award.
On December 15, the Industrial Relations Commission handed down an interim federal award for all teachers in state schools in Victoria. It rolled over existing conditions on October 20, 1993. However, five days later the Directorate of School Education appealed and successfully applied for a stay of the award while the appeal was being heard.
The appeal argues that the AIRC has no jurisdiction over teaching hours beyond the stipulation of a 38-hour week. Although the hearings on the appeal finished on January 28, no decision has been handed down. This has resulted in schools starting the 1994 school year with huge variations in conditions.
The union response to this situation has been to call for a campaign of branch and cluster action around a conditions case. This means that branches try to negotiate with their principals to work their 1993 conditions. If they are unsuccessful, as is inevitable given the DSE's staffing formula, they will be authorised to take action on an individual or cluster basis.
This, along with a marginal electorates campaign, was the only strategy the union leaderships would allow to be debated at the branch representatives meeting. The meeting was engineered so that no motions from the floor could be discussed.
There is no statewide action proposed. The purpose of the branch action is to have the unions called back to the AIRC so they can argue that their members will not accept the DSE's position and that the DSE should negotiate with the unions. This is consistent with the union leadership's strategy of relying totally on the federal award to protect members' conditions.
However, in arguing against the appeal, the unions dropped class sizes from their case, and it is almost certain that the interim award, even if the appeal is overturned, will not contain face to face teaching hours. These two conditions are those that most affect teachers in their day-to-day work.
The Rank and File Group, an opposition group within the unions, is attempting to organise united action in the Western Region, where schools have been hit the hardest.