Catholic systemic campaign

Members stand up and stop work

Teachers and support staff in Catholic systemic schools gave their employers a short, sharp reminder to come to the negotiating table by conducting a one-hour stopwork on Tuesday 15 November from 8.30am to 9.30am (with some chapters taking action at different times). This was legally protected industrial action.

Members were protesting the lack of progress on negotiations for a new enterprise agreement.

“Talks began in early February,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam. “It was mid-November and employers were no closer to resolving pay issues.”

During the stopwork hour, Chapters united in a strong show of support and solidarity. Some gathered to march out their school gate in bright yellow Hear Our Voice t-shirts, others waved flags, took photos, or met offsite for a well-deserved cuppa (see pages 8-9). One chapter held a letter-writing masterclass, urging employers to take immediate and meaningful action on workloads.

The IEU had written to employers on 25 October complaining about the slow progress. By 10 November, the IEU had not received a response, leaving members with no option but to vote on taking stopwork action.

“Members were tired and frustrated with their employers’ failure to respect them by negotiating in a fair and timely manner,” Northam said.

On Friday 11 November, the NSW Industrial Relations Commission handed down a decision with the effect that teachers in NSW government schools were granted pay rises of just 2.29% (2.04% already paid plus 0.25%) in 2022 and 2.53% in 2023.

While Catholic employers are not legally bound by this ruling, they have long imposed the NSW Government’s wages policy on Catholic teachers.

Catholic Employment Relations (CER, the employers) finally met with the union on 21 November. True to form, they confirmed the same pay offer in a letter of 24 November:

  • an increase of 0.25% back paid to the first pay period on or after 1 July 2022 (on top of the 2.04% already paid, taking the increase to 2.29% for 2022)
  • a lump sum equivalent to 0.25% of the employee’s salary as at 30 June 2022 (applied to six months only)
  • these two payments amount to less than $300 before tax for most employees.
  • an increase of 2.54% from the first full pay period on or after 1 January 2023.

“The IEU condemns these derisory increases – they are not enough for IEU members nor for members of the NSW Teachers Federation,” Northam said.

The employers have not made any specific written commitment about matching the Department of Education pay rates for support staff.

“Teachers’ salaries have been falling relative to other professions for more than a decade now and this year’s cost-of-living pressures only make matters worse,” Northam said. “Salaries for support staff in Catholic schools are below those in NSW government schools, yet Catholic employers are still dragging the chain on pay parity.”

Teachers and support staff have been pushed to breaking point in recent years by severe staff shortages caused by unmanageable workloads, uncompetitive salaries and the lingering pandemic. Practical action is still needed to reduce the administrative burden and allow proper time for lesson planning.

Media interest in the stopwork was strong, with coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Newcastle Herald, the Illawarra Mercury and WIN TV and more than 40 news websites and newspapers throughout regional NSW and Australia.

Salaries of both Catholic systemic teachers and government school teachers and support staff are constrained by the NSW Government’s salary cap. But there is a state election coming up on 25 March 2023. NSW Labor has committed to abolishing the pay cap and addressing teacher workloads should it win government.

“We’ll be turning our attention to the ballot box – the outcome of this election will be crucial to achieving real improvements for teachers and support staff,” Northam said.

“It is hard to see how the union could recommend a new enterprise agreement to members before the result is known.

“The IEU thanks members for their support in this difficult campaign during 2022. We are looking at action we can take in 2023 to achieve real improvements in pay and workloads.”

Monica Crouch Journalist