Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Canberra’s Leading
Relationship Lawyers

Why ACT Teachers are Striking on Tuesday

By TomGreenwell - 26 September 2011 104

On Tuesday morning, ACT teachers will stop work from 8.30 to 11.30am and rally outside the legislative assembly to demand better pay and conditions. While this reflects fierce disagreement between teachers and the Government, the one thing everybody can agree on is that the disruption of normal classes is highly regrettable. Canberrans, especially parents of school-aged children, will no doubt be wanting to know how it has come to this.  

The centrepiece of the teachers’ claim is pay parity with their NSW colleagues. Currently, classroom teachers at the top of the pay scale earn $6000 a year less than their counterparts in NSW while deputy principals earn $15,000 a year less. Relief teachers earn $35 a day less in Canberra than they do across the border. No matter what level a teacher is at in the ACT, they earn significantly less than they would in the equivalent position in NSW.

Poor teacher pay is undermining the quality of education provided to ACT children. Each year, fewer and fewer applicants are seeking to join the teaching profession in Canberra. Schools can’t find relief teachers when staff are absent. There is no counsellor provision at over 20 Canberra schools. Those counsellors that are in the system work across multiple sites and are stretched between a massive number of students. There is 1 counsellor for every 918 students, far in excess of the recommended ratio. As Glenn Fowler from the Australian Education Union (AEU) told ABC Radio recently:  “There’s been an effort to recruit them from all over the world, it has failed… There needs to be an attractive proposition for people to come into that and not go into private practice or other government agencies.”

 The last time a pay agreement was negotiated, back in 2009, it was the height of the Global Financial Crisis. In the circumstances, teachers acted responsibly and settled for less than they would have liked. In return, there was an informal understanding that this restraint would be recognised in the next pay negotiation. Rather than honouring that understanding this time round, the Government offered annual pay increases that would not even have kept up with forecast inflation. In other words: a cut in real wages.

In the face of this intransigence, over 2000 Canberra teachers stopped work for four hours on September 1 to demand real investment in our public education system and the professionals that are its lifeblood. The Government reconsidered its position and on September 9 made a new offer which included pay parity with NSW for classroom teachers. However, under the offer, executive teachers and deputy principals would still lag thousands of dollars behind their NSW counterparts. Nothing serious has been presented to address the chronic shortage of counsellors in our system. Relief teacher pay would still be more than $20 a day less in Canberra than in Queanbeyan.

To fund pay parity with NSW for classroom teachers in 2011, the Government is now demanding teachers accept annual increases of just 2.5% in 2012 and 2013 . These would not keep up with growth in the cost of living and do not equate to increases enjoyed by other public sector workers.

Given that the September 9 offer, though unsatisfactory, was a move in the right direction, teachers cancelled planned rolling stoppages and sought, in good faith, to negotiate a deal with the employer. Additionally, teachers have tried to influence the Government with bans that have a less direct effect on students and their parents, like refusing to use personal cash or vehicles for work purposes. Unfortunately, the Government continues to refuse to commit to the serious investment our schools need and our students deserve.    

As well as falling short in this fundamental respect, the Government is failing to win public support for its position. A majority of respondents in a Canberra Times online poll support the strike action. An even greater majority support the principle of pay parity. As P&C Council president, Jane Tullis, has said: “step up Mr Barr and let’s see you reward teachers for the high standard of service they are providing.”

Tom Greenwell is a Canberra teacher and a member of the Australian Education Union. The views expressed here are his own. 

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
104 Responses to
Why ACT Teachers are Striking on Tuesday
TomGreenwell 8:14 pm 26 Sep 11

Mr Magoo said: “I support better pay and conditions for teachers whole heartedly but my question to the AEU is what happens when NSW teachers get a pay rise??”

Thanks for your support – it’s greatly appreciated. I think there is an understanding that we can only talk about pay parity with other jurisdictions at a particular moment – we don’t know what’s going to happen elsewhere over the life of the agreement. However, teachers want to make demands that are reasonable and that the community can see are reasonable. Comparisons with other jurisdictions, particularly NSW which directly competes with the ACT for teaching staff, help us do that. Moreover, they help everyone understand why the ACT is failing to attract the education professionals it needs (eg. new teachers, relief teachers, school counsellors) to give students the best possible start in life.

trevar said: “I have one question remaining; why do teachers only ever take half-arsed industrial measures? If parity is so important, why not have a proper strike to resolve the issue permanently instead of piddly little do-nothing strikes on a permanent biennial basis?”

I believe my colleagues and I are very determined to get a fair outcome. However, we find taking strike action highly regrettable, not least because it does cause disruption to parents and, particularly, to students. As I see it, we’re trying to take a balanced approach to minimise the disruption and maximise the result.

Fuzzy said: “Most people (myself included) agree that teachers are underpaid but 2 strikes plus the planning day in less than 6 weeks makes many an unhappy parent.”

Fuzzy, I understand your annoyance. We have made every effort to avoid this. As an act of good faith, we deferred rolling stoppages which had been planned in order to try and negotiate a deal with the Government. As I wrote above, we’ve implemented more minor bans to try and influence the Government. Despite this, they’re just not listening and thus we feel this is the only tool we have.

Rollersk8r, miz & Jethro – thanks for your support!

what_the 5:42 pm 26 Sep 11

Fuzzy said :

krats said :

Tuesday October 11.Would make more sense

Why? The ACT teachers are on holidays then.

Most people (myself included) agree that teachers are underpaid but 2 strikes plus the planning day in less than 6 weeks makes many an unhappy parent.

Which is the point. More people whinge, the more likely the government is to act on it.

Fuzzy 5:37 pm 26 Sep 11

krats said :

Tuesday October 11.Would make more sense

Why? The ACT teachers are on holidays then.

Most people (myself included) agree that teachers are underpaid but 2 strikes plus the planning day in less than 6 weeks makes many an unhappy parent.

YetAnotherBlowIn 5:00 pm 26 Sep 11

EvanJames said :

whitelaughter said :

Is being a teacher living hell?

Yep. Much like being a parent, from what I can gather.

But with less authority, respect and more accountability.

EvanJames 4:08 pm 26 Sep 11

whitelaughter said :

Is being a teacher living hell?

Yep. Much like being a parent, from what I can gather. The horror, the horror (there’s some culture for you from A Classic).

whitelaughter 3:34 pm 26 Sep 11

Is being a teacher living hell? Yes – we all know that, we all went to school. Teachers are those strange creatures who despite spending 13 odd years in those prisons, decided to go back.
This does somewhat undercut any belief that they might be intelligent.

I remember teacher’s strikes with some fondness – instead of sitting in a classroom tuning out a teacher’s attempts to ‘help’ the dumbchums, I could sit under a tree and read the classics. If they’d have gone on strike more often, I’d probably be better educated and certainly be more cultured.

If teachers were serious about wanting students to learn more, they’d want independent exams (and no mucking around with it every year to prevent comparisons) so that it was clear how much students were learning. If they actually believed that students learnt anything at school, they’d want exams at start and finish of each term so that you could compare student learning during term time with what students learn during the holidays.
Since they don’t…

However, if they want parity with NSW, it *is* possible to move the ACT – make the corner country or maybe Albury the new ACT, and Canberra would revert to being part of NSW. Easy peasy.

krats 3:22 pm 26 Sep 11

Tuesday October 11.Would make more sense

Rollersk8r 3:20 pm 26 Sep 11

Plus Barr and Gallagher and always banging on about attracting the “best and brightest” to teaching, with accelerated progression through the payscale up to $100,000. The finer detail, to my understanding, is this scheme is capped and very limited. It’s the equivalent of blowing the salary cap on 1 star player and wondering why the team’s still not winning. It sends the message that rich rewards are available for a select few…

Which is why so many experienced teachers end up at the APS4 or APS5 level in the federal public service. It’s less stressful, far more flexible and much better paid!

Morgan 3:00 pm 26 Sep 11

Well if you think the NSW teachers are so well paid, go and work there.

The fact that the Education department cant recruit staff is not a concern for teachers, but for management – It seems management have chosen not to pay staff more to recruit externally. I find it odd in industrial disputes when the main arguments from unions is about how paying their members more will help them. As if they can’t identify the range of strategies to improve teacher recruitment.
Can teachers please stop pretending this is about the future of education, and more about how much they get paid individually.

Jethro 2:22 pm 26 Sep 11

MrMagoo said :

Jethro said :

MrMagoo said :

With all due respect to Mr Greenwell and all teachers (I’m married to one), can someone please explain to the AEU that the ACT is not NSW!!!!

This is true. The cost of living in the ACT is higher.

According to the always affable Chairman Zed of the Canberra Liberals anyway.

No Zed was wrong because he was ignoring the fact that overall Canberra is a more affordable place than Sydney (cost of living is higher, but so are wages). My point was that the affordability trend doesn’t apply to ACT teachers who are currently some of the lowest paid in the country, yet living in a region with some of the highest costs.

MrMagoo 2:03 pm 26 Sep 11

Jethro said :

MrMagoo said :

With all due respect to Mr Greenwell and all teachers (I’m married to one), can someone please explain to the AEU that the ACT is not NSW!!!!

This is true. The cost of living in the ACT is higher.

According to the always affable Chairman Zed of the Canberra Liberals anyway.

miz 1:05 pm 26 Sep 11

Trevar, I think they have to get Fair Work Australia’s prior permission to strike . . . and it is unlikely they would get permission to stay off work indefinitely.

I support the teachers’ actions – it is just beyond a joke that teachers are so underpaid in the ACT. They are also ‘expected’ to do a lot of tasks out of working hours (such as camps, concerts, overnight excursions) for no remuneration, under ‘goodwill’. Teachers often pay for stuff out of their own pockets so the kids don’t miss out, eg clarinet reeds, stationery, use of personal cars to transport students and/or equipment, even computer repairs. These are real examples of acts undertaken ‘for free’ by family members and staff at my children’s high school.

I suspect most Canberrans do not even realise that teachers get no formal recognition/remuneration for these things. Equiv positions in the public service are entitled to overtime, flex, etc, and private sector employees would be remunerated appropriately. If I were a teacher, I would be feeling very exploited and ‘second class’ compared with other ACT public servants which, by the way, Andrew Barr is constantly saying they should realise they are).

trevar 12:21 pm 26 Sep 11

I’d like to thank Mr Greenwell for such a clear description of the union’s demands. Usually we just get the ramblings of confused journalists…

Nonetheless, I have one question remaining; why do teachers only ever take half-arsed industrial measures? If parity is so important, why not have a proper strike to resolve the issue permanently instead of piddly little do-nothing strikes on a permanent biennial basis?

As a taxpayer and a parent, I say go hard or go back to work. Teachers are paid more than comparable professions already, which is probably the only reason so many have stayed in the profession under such horrid conditions and ridiculous expectations. So the issue of parity just forces the hands of the other states’ unions, leading to rolling strikes around the states depending on whose turn it happens to be to get paid the least. While I would be supportive of teachers and their unions (teachers are, after all, some of the most valuable contributors to both economic and social capital), this trite game-playing makes me weary, and I can’t be bothered anymore (which is why I’m among the growing number of teachers who’ve left the profession).

I think it’s time for teachers to grow up and stop behaving like petulant children. If you’re going to strike, strike properly. Get off the job and stay off the job until you have an agreement, but stop these silly little morning-time tantrums after which you just suck it up and go back to work anyway.

Jethro 10:57 am 26 Sep 11

MrMagoo said :

With all due respect to Mr Greenwell and all teachers (I’m married to one), can someone please explain to the AEU that the ACT is not NSW!!!!

This is true. The cost of living in the ACT is higher.

MrMagoo 10:48 am 26 Sep 11

With all due respect to Mr Greenwell and all teachers (I’m married to one), can someone please explain to the AEU that the ACT is not NSW!!!! Do they have a concept of understanding the size of the jurisdictions invovled and the impact that this has on a Governments ability to pay. I support better pay and conditions for teachers whole heartedly but my question to the AEU is what happens when NSW teachers get a pay rise?? Do ACT teachers simply down tools again and stamp their feet about parity. I have lived with and seen how hard teachers work and do no dispute their right to conditions, my concern is the arguement of juridictional parity is a spiral that will never end.

1 2 3 7

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site