Teachers united

More than 20,000 teachers and support staff took a stand for better pay and conditions on 30 June as the IEU and the NSW Teachers Federation united for a historic strike, rallies and marches throughout NSW and the ACT. It is the first such joint action since 1996.

At the Sydney rally, Catholic systemic teachers and support staff sporting bright yellow t-shirts and waving clever placards convened in the St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt before stepping out onto College Street, marching proudly towards their government school colleagues, who were unmissable in red t-shirts.

At the Hyde Park intersection, the two unions merged, surging onto Macquarie Street united behind a single banner sending a powerful message: “Teachers united”.

Chanting “Hear our voice!” and “More than thanks!” at full volume, the massive crowd, accompanied by a media pack of major networks, made its way to Parliament House. The NSW Premier and Catholic employers were put on notice.

“The pressure on the teaching profession has reached boil-over point,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam, addressing the rally that stretched from Hunter Street in the north to Hyde Park in the south, with one media outlet describing it as “one of NSW’s biggest ever strikes”.

“Teaching has become a profoundly more complex job over the past two decades. Yet over that same period, salaries have failed to reflect the incredibly demanding nature of the work of teachers and support staff.

“So how are we going to fix it?” Northam asked. “It’s quite straightforward. Raise teacher salaries so they’re comparable with other professions. Increase release time to provide teachers with the capacity to do their job. And ensure Catholic systemic support staff are paid the same as their government school counterparts.”

IEUA NSW/ACT Branch President Christine Wilkinson was similarly unequivocal. “Our Catholic system is broken,” she said. “Teachers are broken. They’re drowning in a sea of ever-increasing workloads and admin tasks. Our support staff aren’t getting a fair go.

“Work-life balance has long gone. Good teachers are leaving the profession because they want their lives back. Young graduates do not consider teaching to be a viable career – they see and sense their teachers are exhausted.”

Wilkinson reiterated the IEU’s key claims. “Pay teachers what they’re worth – an increase of 10% to 15% over two years. Give our support staff a fair deal. Let teachers teach – cut the paperwork and allow time to plan. And end the staff shortages. Together, we can do this.”

NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos likewise did not mince words. “We all know about the teacher shortage, but this crisis cannot be fixed without fixing the salaries and the workload problem,” he said.

“The Premier said in April that he would reconsider the government’s wages policy. He said no public sector workers should be worse off because of inflation – which is predicted to be 7% this year.

“We are serious about negotiating an agreement to deliver what teachers in schools need. But in order for us to do so, they’ve got to scrap that pay cap,” Gavrielatos said.

Catholic employers and the NSW Government were left in no doubt as to how strongly teachers and support staff feel about the crisis in schools.

“The union is calling on Catholic employers to publicly state their position and support our claims for increased salaries,” Northam said.

So, what’s next? Employers, it’s your move. The Catholic employers have said they cannot meet with the IEU again until the end of July.

Monica Crouch