Catholic employers can lead the way on stangnant pay

It’s time for Catholic employers to break the nexus and acknowledge that being in lock step with the NSW Government wages policy is both unnecessarily constraining and counter to the wellbeing of the education profession and the communities they serve.

The climate of insecure work, universities not attracting students into teaching degrees, the cost of the degrees, an unacceptable teacher attrition rate and the reality that cost-of-living increases are outstripping the Perrottet government’s imposed 2.5% wages cap (which is even lower when there are legislated increases in the Super Guarantee Levy) – has created the perfect storm.

The community expects better. IEU members expect better. In recent times the CEOs of Coles, Woolworths and Harvey Norman have signalled that significant price increases are not far off. To limit the pay increase for NSW public servants to 2.5% is to restrict economic wellbeing and the post-COVID recovery.

For several decades the Catholic policy has been not to pay more than the State Government. This is despite Catholic systemic schools being in the federal industrial relations system. Catholic employers can step up and break the impasse.

Professor John Buchanan from the University of Sydney Business School declared in the Sun Herald on 27 February: “What Australia’s got now is a problem of militant employers ... just look at how the NSW Government has been treating the nurses, the teachers and the train drivers.”

Taking one for the team' is a worn-out narrative

IEU members are poised to push back on a government that is not listening to reasonable demands for improved salaries and conditions.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said: “Workers need a fair share of the national prosperity they are creating. We need wage growth to put money in the hands of working people to create a strong, durable recovery from the pandemic.”

Catholic employers are aware of teacher shortages – a recent submission to the Initial Teacher Education Review by the Catholic sector predicted a 15 percent teacher shortage by the end of the decade.

Catholic employers are aware that the model of delivering education needs an overhaul, not simply tinkering around the edges. This translates as increased release time for teachers.

Catholic employers are aware of the 2019 settlement between the Public Service Association (which represents support staff in government schools) and the NSW Government which provided for enhanced pay outcomes.

Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 March posed three questions: “First, will employees get outsized pay rises this year to compensate them for the wage freeze that turned out not to be needed?

“Second, will employees also get pay rises big enough to cover all the recent increase in living costs they face, or will employers, public as well as private, ask them to ‘take one for the team’ one more time? If so, real wages will fall further, and future consumer spending will be stuffed.

“Third, will the econocrats’ strategy of running a super-tight labour market force tight-fisted employers to increase wages, as the only desperation measure able to attract the workers they need?”

‘Taking one for the team’ is a worn-out narrative. Catholic employers have an opportunity to lead. Let’s hope they take it.