Hear our voice

Strike looms in catholic systemic schools

The union’s campaign for better pay and conditions for teachers and support staff in Catholic systemic schools is well under way.

Members and delegates at the IEU Council on 19 March voted unanimously for teachers and support staff who work in Catholic systemic schools to pursue the 'Hear Our Voice: A fair deal for teachers and support staff' campaign utilising the media and, if required, move toward taking protected industrial action.

The union has almost 20,000 members in 600 Catholic schools throughout NSW and the ACT. We have strength in numbers, but we always welcome new members.

At the Council meeting, members and delegates endorsed five key demands:

  • pay teachers what they’re worth (in line with other professions)
  • give support staff a fair deal (pay parity with their counterparts in government schools)
  • let teachers teach – cut paperwork
  • allow time for proper planning (reduce face-to-face teaching load by two hours a week)
  • end staff shortages.

“The failure to increase teachers’ pay to match that of other professionals and the ever-increasing workload has led to a crisis in teaching,” the Council resolution states. “It’s time for Catholic employers and the NSW Government to hear our voice.”

Staff shortages fuel frustrations

IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Acting Secretary Carol Matthews said: “Our members are frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations given no offer has been received from the employers. The union sent the claim to the employers in November last year, well before agreements expired at the end of 2021.”

The severe shortage of teachers in Catholic systemic schools across NSW and the ACT is a direct result of declining pay coupled with excessive workloads. It has been turbo-charged by the COVID-19 pandemic with staff either off sick or isolating.

“Teachers are exhausted because of extra demands to cover absent colleagues’ classes,” Matthews said.

“Members have reported standing in a corridor between classrooms trying to teach two or three primary classes simultaneously. Something has to be done before even more of them burn out.”

Stagnant salaries starve the profession

IEU members agree with the NSW Teachers Federation that uncompetitive salaries and unsustainable workloads are driving teachers (both new and experienced) away from the profession.

“Teachers’ workloads are only increasing but teachers are not getting paid what they should be for the hours they work,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch President Chris Wilkinson.

“Young graduates are not going into the teaching profession because of the pay and workload. When I talk to my Year 12 students, not many of them want to go into teaching – it’s just not an attractive career for most young people today.”

IEU Organisers are visiting members in schools throughout NSW and the ACT and any further decisions about industrial action will be taken in coming weeks.

Negotiations so far

Since the IEU’s claim was lodged with employers in November 2021, the employer bargaining team has only agreed to meet with the IEU three times: on 2 February, 23 February and 23 March (further meetings are scheduled).

The union has sent detailed claims to the employers with supporting documents, including one that sets out how the increases achieved in government schools in 2019 should be applied to the rates and classifications applying to support staff in Catholic systemic schools.

Meeting on 2 February: The IEU discussed and explained all elements of the union’s claim, including claims relating to teachers and claims relating to support staff.

Meeting on 23 February: Employers were scheduled to respond to our claim. Although they commented on some elements, they gave no clear indication of their position in relation to any matter.

Meeting scheduled for 10 March: CER cancelled this meeting just before it was to begin, for technical reasons relating to issue of the Notice of employee representational rights.

Meeting on 23 March: Further discussion of the union’s claims, including those relating to support staff. The employers said they appreciate the hard work of teachers and support staff but still did not provide a formal response to any of the union’s key demands, promising a response in writing at the next meeting on 6 April.

Once-in-a-decade opportunity

The union believes that a strong public campaign is necessary to achieve a successful outcome for teachers and support staff.

The IEU and its members need to endorse the campaign enthusiastically for the benefit of the profession as a whole. It is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to address teachers’ pay.

The NSW Teachers Federation is also campaigning for significant increases in teacher salaries and a reduction in workload (the Federation does not represent support staff in government schools, they are represented by the Public Service Association).

The NSW Government (the employer) is resisting the Federation’s claims. The NSW Government has had a policy of restricting public sector wage increases to 2.5% per annum since 2011 – this is known as the public sector pay cap.

The pay cap does not legally apply to the non-government school sector, but Catholic systemic school employers have traditionally followed it for political reasons.

How we take action

We need to demonstrate to employers and the general community that we are serious. The most effective way of doing this is by taking protected industrial action.

This could take the form of wearing campaign badges or t-shirts, banning meetings, and taking stop-work action (striking) for any period of time, from half an hour to a day or more.

The process for taking protected industrial action under the Federal Government’s industrial system requires union members who are bargaining for an enterprise agreement to first vote in a formal Protected Action Ballot in favour of taking protected action.

The proposed action is set out in the ballot. The ballot needs to meet two requirements: half the members in a particular workplace must participate in the ballot; and more than half of those who vote must vote ‘Yes’. To achieve the right to take protected action, both requirements must be met.

The IEU will arrange for the vote to be conducted in a secret online ballot at each school. Members will only have the right to take part in any protected action that may be called if the Protected Action Ballot of members was carried. If the vote is not carried, you will not be entitled to participate.

It is essential to talk to other members at your school and encourage voting in your Chapter so it reaches the 50 percent participation threshold.

What members can do

For this campaign to be successful, please help us by doing the following:

  • encourage your colleagues (both support staff and teachers) who are not IEU members to join the union – only members can vote on protected industrial action and participate in that action
  • check you are on the IEU member list for your current school, especially if you have recently changed schools
  • check that your name and email address are correct on IEU records. To vote in a Protected Action Ballot, you must have the same name on both your employer’s records and IEU records (this means: middle names, maiden name vs married names, hyphenated names, etc) and you must be recorded at the same school on both employer and IEU records.
  • discuss this campaign with colleagues and encourage them to be involved
  • establish an IEU Committee to assist the IEU Rep in gaining support for this campaign among staff at your school.

The formal Protected Action Ballot will be conducted early in Term 2 – but only in schools that have advised us that they wish to be part of the ballot. Invite your colleagues who are not members to join the union.

More information

Valuing the teaching profession: An independent inquiry, Dr Geoff Gallop, Patrick Lee and Dr Tricia Kavanagh, 2021; commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation.

Carol Matthews
Acting Secretary
Monica Crouch