The year of dual elections

In a few weeks voters in NSW will go to the polls to elect a government which will hold office until 2023 and some time in the next few months a federal election is expected. Only our members in the ACT will be spared dual elections as the next ACT ballot is not scheduled until late next year.

The results of these elections are significant, and the outcomes will have substantial impact on those who work in our sector, particularly our teacher members.

At a federal level the key issues likely to impact our members are long term school funding policy especially the ‘conditions’ attached to that funding, early childhood education policy and universal access, industrial legislation and the rights of workers. As a trade union forced to operate under the bargaining procedures dictated by the Fair Work Act we understand just how broken the rules are. We firmly believe there is an urgent need to Change the Rules.

All levels of government propose a review of their anti-discrimination laws, particularly the exemptions to those laws. We support these reviews and have long been critical to the broad capture of the NSW exemptions.

Recently the public debate on the right to discriminate has been characterised as protecting religious freedom and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is cited. “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion….to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. (Article 18)

Yet the same document provides that “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”. (Article 7) Discrimination legislation which can reconcile these seemingly contradictory positions will be advanced democracy indeed. Our thinking is that exemptions to any law should require a very tough test and should not be easily won.

NESA review

In NSW our teacher members are demanding significant changes to the legislation which governs their profession. They express total dissatisfaction with NESA as the body which registers and accredits them. An immediate and thorough review of the operation of the accreditation legislation is urgent business for an incoming government.

All workers in this state want an end to the arbitrary and artificial 2.5% salary cap. For almost a decade real wages have diminished, households have been burdened with increasing costs and new demands on their budgets and household debt has increased to unmanageable proportions.

These are some of the big picture issues the Union will be confronting early this year. So too the fallout from the National Review of Teacher Registration, which made a series of recommendations now called One Teaching Profession which proposes greater uniformity and consistency across all states and territories. While some of this is sensible and we support the recommendations there are contentious and unwelcome proposals which we will seek to modify or resist.

Strange as it might seem we can expect to again commence bargaining with the 11 Catholic dioceses for a new Enterprise Agreement (EA) towards the end of the year. The long delay in making and finalising the current EA meant that by the time it was approved by the Fair Work Commission it had very little life. The EA expires on 31 December, 2019.

Our Equal Remuneration Case (initially for early childhood teachers) now broadened to address the inadequate pay rates in the Educational Services (Teachers) Award will be finally heard and (we hope) decided midyear. This will be the culmination of work commenced in 2013 and is long overdue.

The work of the Union in servicing members, enforcing the EAs we have and supporting them industrially and professionally continues. Most members will have been notified of the extensive Semester 1 Professional Development schedule by email and will shortly receive an email advising them of the Member Advantage Program with a link to their digital membership card and the opportunity to access a range of discounted goods and services.

As is the case every year this one is shaping to be extremely demanding but rich in opportunities.

John Quessy