Action for change
29 March 2019
AEU members with “fire in the belly” are negotiating new enterprise bargaining agreements.
In Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT, teachers are continuing to pressure governments to agree
on a level of funding and resources that will support their profession to deliver quality education.
While the Hodgman government dreams about Tasmania as the “education state”, its teachers are the lowest paid in Australia and the government has progressively cut funding to public schools.
Tasmanian educators ran a Quality Education campaign that led into the state election last March. They’ve since joined other public sector workers to call for an end to a two per cent cap on wage rises that has been in place since 2011. Negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) began late last year.
AEU Tasmania president Helen Richardson says that in addition to pay, workload for teachers, support staff and principals is “unsustainable”.
“And, we don’t have enough professional support staff in schools. The Australian Psychological Society recommends one school psychologist to 500 students.
We’ve got about one to 1,200. We’ve got waiting lists of over a year for children to
see a speech therapist, let alone get the help that they need,” she says.
Industrial action late last year attracted a lot of media attention and Richardson can’t remember when there was such “fire in the belly” of members.
“The goodwill has run out and they want something done about it,” she says.
Australian Capital Territory
Teachers in the ACT are making progress at the bargaining table in negotiations for their new EBA, says AEU ACT secretary Glenn Fowler.
He says there’s agreement in principle on key issues, including moderating the effect of digital communications, respecting educators’ leave, and occupational violence.
Fowler is positive about an enhanced annual process for workload reduction in schools and movement towards converting temporary teachers to permanent arrangements. “So, the days
of eight successive one-year contracts are over,” he says.
Salaries are potentially a stumbling block. An offer of 2.7 per cent a year “is unlikely to be acceptable to our members and is not good enough,” Fowler says.
Another is the union’s demand to reduce face-to-face hours for classroom teachers from 21.5 to 20.5 per week.
Members in the ACT are also lobbying for extra funding to support school principals.
A March 2018 state election got in the way of any significant bargaining, delaying meaningful negotiations on the AEU’s 7 Point Plan for Education until later in the year.
The South Australian Branch is campaigning on the theme of respect for the education profession. Members are demanding reasonable workloads, better remuneration for all classifications, secure employment, more teachers to reduce class size, improved provisions to attract and retain staff to country locations, addressing gender inequality and domestic violence conditions, and fair treatment at work.
About 106 proposals were put to the government when bargaining began in last May; by October 100 had been dismissed or rejected. On World Teachers Day on 26 October the union scheduled an after-hours rally.
AEU SA president Howard Spreadbury says the government has also proposed the removal of a previous commitment for a range of funding matters in a new agreement.
“They said they wanted more flexibility and less regulation, and obviously members were very alarmed and concerned about not having these funding measures guaranteed into the future,” he says.
The result was a half-day stop work in November and a series of rallies across the state. The rallies were well attended by members and sent a clear message to government that members wanted them to seriously negotiate securing current levels of funding as well as providing additional resources to alleviate workload.
Spreadbury says more industrial action is an option if negotiations are not fruitful.
This article originally appears in the Australian Educator Autumn 2019.