AEU wins compensation for teacher laptop deductions

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23 December 2015

Victorian public school teachers are getting an early Christmas present after a court ruled it was unlawful for the State’s Education Department to deduct money from the salaries of teachers and principals to pay for laptops.

The case has been fought by the AEU’s Victorian branch since 2012 showing the value to members of a strong and committed union.

The Federal Court found that teachers and principals should not be forced to pay out of their own pockets for a required tool for the job and ordered a total of $37 million be paid back to approximately 46,000 teachers people.

Educators were required to pay up to $17 per fortnight to lease the laptops which, while available for personal use, were almost exclusively used for work purposes including marking, communicating with parents and in the classroom.

The Court found that the policy of forcing teachers to lease laptops was unreasonable because teachers could not choose whether to participate in the program, the cost was excessive, and the deductions were not principally for the benefit of teachers.

Without the intervention of the union teachers and principals would still be paying for an essential tool of the job.

AEU Victoria President Meredith Peace said that teachers and principals deserved the tools and resources that are essential to their jobs to be provided by their employer.

“To attract and retain teachers, we must provide standard professional tools,” she said.

"Computers are an essential part of the teaching and learning process.”

“Students themselves in many schools have laptops under the one-to-one laptop program. Teachers are expected to engage their students in learning through digital devices and teach them the ICT skills they need to be successful learners.”

Forcing teachers to pay for work laptops is particularly galling given the amount of their own money many teachers spend voluntarily on work-related items.

A NSW Teachers Federation survey found that teachers spent an average $1848 for the 2013 school year on school-related items. This included $985 on classroom supplies (pens, pencils exercise books and craft products) as well as books for class libraries, sport and music equipment and classroom furniture. Some teachers even reported paying for heaters.

Teachers also spent on average $169 on student welfare such as lunches, bus money and excursion costs, mobile phone calls, prizes and rewards with some teachers spending more than $2000.

The lesson for the Victorian Education Department is clear: school systems can’t expect teachers to pay for basic equipment like laptops.

The Andrews Government has stated that it will not appeal the court’s decision and unlike the former Napthine government have acknowledged the need for teachers and principals to be provided with laptops to undertake their work. Current teachers are expected to get their back-pay before Christmas, while former teachers will get theirs in the first half of next year.