Thousands of members in the Catholic systemic schools sector stopped work on Friday 27 May to rally and march throughout NSW and the ACT in support of better pay and conditions.
Resplendent in bright yellow “Hear Our Voice” t-shirts, a sea of teachers and support staff surged across Sydney and nine other locations from Lennox Head in the north to Wagga Wagga in the south-west. Rallies were also held in Canberra, Newcastle, Wollongong, Dubbo, Bathurst, Port Macquarie and Tamworth.
“It was a historic moment for the IEU,” said Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam. “It was our biggest rally yet, and a real testimony to our members, our dedicated reps, our organisers and IEU staff.”
Support staff turned out in great numbers, welcomed by teachers proudly chanting: “Our support staff, best on earth, time to pay them what they’re worth.”
“The mood was electrifying,” said Northam. “At the Sydney rally we had more than 2000 members who were both positive and passionate.”
And members' voices were certainly heard loud and clear – not just in Town Hall Square, but also as they marched on the employer’s offices on Liverpool Street in Sydney and Catholic Education Offices throughout NSW to deliver the resolution adopted loudly and unanimously at all 10 rallies (see below).
“Teachers and support staff are not just protesting,” Northam said. “They’re expressing deep concerns about their profession to their employers, the NSW Premier, the public and parents. Schools are in crisis, and we're absolutely determined to make meaningful change.”
The five key claims of the Hear our Voice campaign are:
- Pay teachers what they’re worth (an increase of 10% to 15% over two years)
- Give support staff a fair deal (pay parity with colleagues in government schools)
- Let teachers teach – cut paperwork
- Allow time to plan
- End staff shortages.
“Teachers love to teach,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch President Christine Wilkinson in a speech at the Sydney rally. “We don’t want to do all that extra work – data collection, admin, standing in the middle of two classrooms to babysit up to 70 students because we cannot get casual staff.”
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Deputy President and teacher Tina Ruello agreed. “We are bleeding teachers, we are haemorrhaging,” she said to the Sydney rally. “Our current pay and horrendous workloads are the cause.”
Members at all 10 rallies were defiant and determined, yet plenty of good old-fashioned fun was also had. In Wollongong, IEU member and ukulele player Jenna Hogan got the crowd singing John Farnham’s 1986 hit You’re the Voice at full volume. Members in Sydney dug in and danced to Abba’s Money, Money, Money, accompanied by trombone player and IEU member Rod Herbert.
In Canberra, members adapted a familiar movie tune from the 1980s: “Who ya gonna call? Support staff!”; while in Newcastle, the crowd sang a reworked version of Solidarity Forever at the top of their lungs (see lyrics, p7).
Clever signs spoke volumes. “The teacher shortage is bananas – it’s time to make the profession more a-peel-ing,” read one. “If you can read this sign, thank a teacher,” read another; and “Teacher burnout is why we have this turnout.”
All 10 rallies drew positive coverage from the mainstream media, including ABC TV, 10News First, 9News and 7News. Prime7 gave us prime time in Tamworth, Dubbo, Bathurst and Port Macquarie.
Northam's morning began on Radio National news at 6am. Throughout the day, the IEU talked to ABC Radio not only in Sydney but throughout the regions too. We talked to 2GB and Triple M. We were heard on 2HD and 2NUR (Newcastle), 2CC (Canberra) and WaveFM (Illawarra).
Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Newcastle Herald, the Canberra Times, the Central Western Daily, the Northern Daily Leader, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser and the Bathurst Weekend Advocate could not have missed us.
But our fight isn’t finished. The IEU joined a Unions NSW summit demanding a better deal for essential workers ahead of the NSW budget on 21 June (see p4). We stand in solidarity with NSW public servants on their day of action on 8 June, as they push to scrap the NSW wage cap. Like you, public sector employees need a pay rise – and Catholic employers are watching and waiting for the NSW Government to make a move. Our next bargaining meeting with Catholic employers was on 15 June (after Newsmonth went to press).
“This campaign is not over until our members’ claims are met,” Northam said. “If at first we don’t succeed ...”.