19 May 2022

UPDATE: Catholic Education director concerned about 'potential disruption' following vote to strike

| Claire Fenwicke
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The Independent Education Union has been urged to continue negotiations ahead of strike action. Photo: Catholic Education Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

UPDATED 4:00 pm: The Catholic Education director for the Canberra/Goulburn region said he’s “concerned” for students following the Independent Education Union’s decision to announce a strike for 27 May.

Ross Fox said he fully supported the teachers and support staff’s right to take protected industrial action, but he hoped more wouldn’t be necessary.

“We are concerned about further potential disruption to students and the school community, particularly given the experience of the last two years,” he said.

“We have made significant progress in discussions to negotiate a new Enterprise Agreement for teaching and support staff. We believe that we can continue to do so without the added pressure of industrial action at this time.”

He urged the Independent Education Union to keep “working collaboratively” with Catholic Education to reach a “fair and just outcome” for employees.

“We have made clear our commitment to work collaboratively with the union to deliver improved pay and conditions,” Mr Fox said.

“As a measure of our support for all teachers, we have provided two additional planning days this term. We continue to actively negotiate with the IEU across a range of other areas.”

Catholic Education was planning how best to minimise disruption to students and families.

Mr Fox said Catholic Education would continue to negotiate in “good faith”.

“We are blessed to have dedicated teachers and school staff at all schools and we continue to work hard to support all staff in Catholic schools,” he said.

Group of teachers holding signs

The Independent Education Union executive endorsed a full-day stop work action for Catholic school teachers and staff. Photo: IEU NSW/ACT branch.

12:00 pm: More than 17,000 Catholic school teachers and support staff across the ACT and NSW have voted to strike over pay and conditions.

The Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA) said educators “overwhelmingly” voted for a full-day stop work action on Friday, 27 May.

IEUA NSW/ACT branch secretary Mark Northam said they didn’t take such a decision lightly.

“Teachers and support staff across both the government and non-government sectors are dedicated professionals pushed to breaking point,” Mr Northam said.

“Schools have been running on goodwill, but it is rapidly evaporating.”

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Voting for the action was undertaken across all 11 Catholic dioceses, with all branches returning the same result.

“The sharply rising cost of living, lack of real wages growth, ever-increasing workloads and the pandemic have caused crippling staff shortages in Catholic schools – our members are exhausted and burnt out,” Mr Northam said.

“Catholic school employers are following the NSW Government’s lead in limiting pay rises to 2.04 per cent, a short-sighted approach that has resulted in the current staffing crisis.

“Teachers are leaving the profession and graduates are not entering it.”

IEUA NSW/ACT deputy branch secretary Carol Matthews said about 30 schools in Canberra would be impacted.

“There is a crisis in the teaching profession, there are very few graduates and it is very hard for schools to fill vacancies, both ongoing and casual,” she said.

“The union feels if we want to safeguard children’s education into the future, more needs to be done about the workload and pay.”

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Ms Matthews said the Catholic school employers argued their pay limitations were based on pay rises in the public sector.

“Our members see these issues as impacting the whole profession,” she said.

“So if, say, the NSW government only offers its teachers a 2.04 per cent pay rise, then our employer only offers 2.04 per cent.

“Our employers have a greater role to play, the governments have a role to play with wage offers, and there needs to be a good look at the administrative burdens placed on teachers.

“Cut the red tape and let teachers teach.”

Negotiations between the IEU and Catholic school employers have been ongoing since January.

The union said it’s fighting for employers to:

  • Pay teachers what they’re worth (an increase of 10 per cent to 15 per cent over two years)
  • Give support staff a fair deal (pay parity with colleagues in public sector schools)
  • Let teachers teach (cut paperwork)
  • Allow time to plan (two more hours release from face-to-face teaching per week)
  • End staff shortages.

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IEUA NSW/ACT branch president Chris Wilkinson said teachers were “totally exhausted” and had nothing left to give.

“With the chronic shortage of casuals, teachers and support staff are being asked to take extra lessons and double classes on top of their teaching load, which takes away precious planning and preparation time,” he said.

“We urge employers to listen to teachers and support staff, hear our voices and pay us what we deserve.”

Catholic school strike action will take place on Friday, 27 May. Rallies are scheduled in NSW and the ACT.

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