The first negotiations between the state government and Victorian teachers following a 10,000 strong November 21 stop-work meeting bore no fruit according to a November 30 press release by the Australian Education Union's (AEU) Victorian branch.
The stop-work meeting resolved to strike for 24 hours on February 14 in support of a log of claims served on the state government a year ago.
Teachers are calling for a 30% pay rise over three years, a reduction of contract teaching, as well as lower class sizes and teaching time. The government is only offering the standard 3.25% per year and says that any further pay increases would need to be found by dollar-for-dollar savings within the education budget. Victorian teachers are the worst paid in the country. Come January, those at the top of the pay scale will be 15% behind NSW teachers.
At the stop-work meeting, AEU branch president Mary Bluett reported on the results of AEU polling that showed that the public is overwhelmingly in favour of a significant increase in pay for teachers, as well as a reduction in class sizes and workload. Seventy-six per cent of those polled supported teachers taking industrial action.
Entertainment at the meeting was provided by the New Teachers Network and the "John Howard Ladies Auxiliary Fanclub".
While the acts were entertaining, in many ways this continues the trend of making stop-work meetings "feel good" meetings, and detracts from any debate on the issues by reducing the available discussion time. It also entrenches an attitude among an increasing number of members that we are merely there to endorse the leadership's position.
The motion put to the meeting called on the government to improve teachers' pay and conditions and to decrease the high levels of contract teaching. If this doesn't happen, there will be another 24-hour statewide stoppage on February 14 and also rolling regional four-hour stoppages throughout Term 1.
Members of Teachers Alliance, a rank-and-file grouping, moved an amendment that any agreement to be recommended to members be brought back to a mass stop-work meeting. They argued that this was the most democratic way to decide, and would give members the opportunity to hear all arguments. The leadership opposed the amendment. The amendment was lost, with about 20% of the meeting supporting it.
The emphasis on contract teaching may cause some problems for the leadership, as the log of claims does not call for an end to contract teaching but merely the reduction of the number of contracts. However, as long as staffing is managed at a school level and contract teachers used to replace teachers on leave, the figure will remain greater than 15%. It is currently almost 20%.
While the AEU leadership has sold poor agreements to the members in the past, this time teachers are well aware of the problems caused by poor pay and conditions. Members will not accept a deal that does not deliver significant pay rises and improvements to working conditions. The reason Victorian teachers are the lowest paid in the country is a result of the current agreement.