A joint meeting of IEU and NSW Teachers Federation Executives took place in June and the decision to strike was unanimous. What followed made history.
IEU members are energised and engaged. After our first stop-work action on 27 May, more than 26 new schools joined the fray so that a total of 563 schools took protected action on 30 June. It was no small feat.
IEU members in Catholic systemic schools, with support from independent school members (who were on term break), students and retired members, stood with their colleagues from the NSW Teachers Federation at 16 locations across NSW and the ACT.
The gravity of the situation was reflected in members’ faces – forthright and resolute – and in their determination to act when the NSW budget promised only a miserable one-half of 1 percent addition to the artificially imposed salary cap.
As Ross Gittins said in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 June: “An increase in wages sufficient to prevent a further fall in real wages would do little harm to the economy.”
For salary increases beyond this wages cap, the time is now.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus pushed back on big business for being happy to accept significant profit margins while talking down salary increases. Her demand for a workers’ seat on the Reserve Bank Board is entirely reasonable.
“You shouldn’t underestimate the degree to which you elevate people, you say how important they are and how essential they are, and then you treat them with no respect afterwards,” McManus said in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 July, as she backed the teachers’ strike.
“It’s not surprising that this [industrial action] is happening in those frontline areas. I think that employers have got used to – for quite a long time – wage suppression, and they have got to recognise there needs to be changes.”
The artificial salary cap in NSW makes a mockery of the concept of bargaining in good faith when the salary outcomes are known in advance. There is no negotiating.
It is now clear that only a seismic change to the working conditions and salaries of teachers and support staff will address the critical position in which we now find ourselves.
Let’s trust Catholic employers can unshackle themselves from the NSW Government’s pay cap and force change across both sectors. Catholic systemic schools can only function as they should if such action is taken.