On February 28, thousands of members of State School Teachers Union of the Western Australia (SSTUWA) defied an order by the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to attend stop-work meetings. The meetings were part of the union's campaign to win a new public schools enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).
The SSTUWA is seeking an agreement with the WA education department that would deliver improved wages and conditions in the state's public education system, which continues to suffer from chronic staffing shortages.
At the Perth stop-work meeting, attended by 6500 teachers, anger and frustration was expressed at the state Labor government's refusal to present a timely new offer following the rejection of its second offer last December by 90% of SSTUWA members. The existing agreement expired on March 1.
The meeting unanimously passed a number of resolutions, including one that called on WA education minister Mark McGowan "to release the Twomey Taskforce Report into teacher shortage as an act of good faith with teachers and the community and to inform the negotiations" over a new agreement. Two other resolutions approved by the meeting read:
"The SSTUWA places on the record its strong belief that provision of decent salaries and decent working conditions for teachers and administrators is a key strategy for government to address both short and long term solutions to current and real teacher shortages, both now and into the future, for the students of this state. The SSTUWA and its members urge the government to recognise this and to respond accordingly."
"The members of the SSTUWA fully support and endorse further industrial action as required if the government does not respond in a timely and adequate manner to concerns raised by the SSTUWA in relation to the negotiations of the schools EBA 2008 and progression of the Union's log of claims."
WA Premier Alan Carpenter responded by telling the February 29 West Australian that work stoppages by SSTUWA members would encourage parents to send their children to private schools and discourage people from becoming teachers.
That same day, the IRC announced that it would prosecute the SSTUWA for defying its order. McGowan told ABC News that the union deserved to be prosecuted because it "broke the law". The union would face a fine of $2000 or possible deregistration if found guilty.