More than 30,000 Victorian teachers and education support (ES) staff walked off the job on February 14 in their campaign for better pay and conditions.
Government figures show that 65% of school staff took part in strike action and 300 schools did not have students. Meredith Peace, Australian Education Union (AEU) state president, also reported that more than 300 schools were brought to a standstill and that every school in the state had some form of disruption.
One in three of the state's teachers who took part in the strike action turned up for the stop work meeting at the Hisense Arena. Over 10,000 teachers marched on state parliament.
Their Catholic school colleagues, who are supporting their campaign, joined them in front of parliament. This is the third statewide stop-work action called by the AEU against the Ballieu government.
In the Geelong area about 170 schools closed. Over 30 schools in the Bendigo area were affected by the action and nine closed down for the day.
The state government has called the action disruptive and frustrating. However although the AEU officials reduced their pay claim of 30% over three years to 12.6% — a move many AEU members are unhappy about — there has been no movement at all by the government.
Part of the AEU’s campaign is to force the government to keep its promise, made during the state election campaign to make Victorian teachers the highest paid in the country.
Once elected, Premier Ted Baillieu reneged on this promise, offering only a 2.5 % pay rise, which is below the cost of living.
Last week, the state government tried to prevent teachers from taking stop work action by calling on the courts to declare the action illegal. The Federal Court rejected this bid.
The government’s failure to show any serious consideration of the AEU’s claims and to make inflammatory statements has only prolonged the campaign.
The state minister for education, Martin Dixon, told The Australian on February 13 that: "We've got a system that's broken whereby the best teacher in the school is paid the same as the worst teacher.
“That's what we need to change and they're the sort of issues we're talking with the union about … we call on the union to call off the strike and work with us to fix that system.”
AEU members oppose performance pay because it would break down the collegiate nature of teaching, which thrives on co-operation and teamwork. It would also undermine the climate that ES staff work under. It is simply a cover for refusing to pay all education workers a just and fair wage.
The mood at the stop work meeting on Thursday was buoyant and angry. Many believe that the negotiations have dragged on for too long and are a direct consequence of the government's incapacity to resolve the dispute.
The lack of progress means the campaign will continue. AEU members voted for more half-day rolling regional stoppages, which will start in Term 2. The union has also voted to continue with its ban on overtime, a political campaign in Coalition seats and again affirmed its objection to performance pay.
An amendment to the resolution for a 48-hour stopwork on May 15-16, timed to coincide with NAPLAN tests, was unsuccessful.
This amendment, moved by members of the Teachers & ES Alliance (TESA), received about 30% of the vote. There was quite a bit of clapping and cheering during the speeches in support of the amendment, indicating the strong feeling many members feel about the direction the campaign should be taking.
It was pointed out that implementing the same strategies that have been used already during the past two years has not moved the government. Consequently, it is time to turn up the heat. Both a 48-hour stop work and disruption of the NAPLAN tests were seen as ways to effectively step up the campaign.