Done deal! Staff in Catholic independent schools secure new agreements

“Back pay was a key component of the deal, and we insisted the employers honour it.”

Staff in Catholic independent schools gain new agreements

After protracted bargaining, the IEU defeated a last-minute obstacle posed by the employers to secure pay rises and new agreements for teachers and support staff in 40 schools.

In January 2024, the IEU finally reached agreement on the wording of all six multi-enterprise agreements (MEAs) that cover teachers and support staff in all three groups of Catholic independent schools, referred to as Models A, B and C schools (about 40 schools in total).

Model A’s MEAs will be in place for two years; and Models B and C’s MEAs will be in place for three years.

The IEU was in bargaining for almost three years for these MEAs. The existing MEAs have long expired.

The new MEAs must be formalised by a vote of employees from 13 to 16 February.

In-principle agreements

In November 2023, after sustained pressure from the IEU, including members at Chapter level, the IEU finally reached in-principle agreements with Catholic Employment Relations (CER), which represents the schools, about new MEAs to cover teachers and support staff in all three groups.

However, when CER presented the draft MEAs to the IEU, the IEU identified a number of drafting issues that were contrary to the in-principle agreements.

Some schools try to block back pay

The in-principle agreements reached in November last year provided for salary increases from the date of commencement of the new MEAs (expected to be the middle of Term 1 2024) but also back pay from at least October 2023. For support staff, some increases were agreed from July 2023. The first round of increases was as follows:

  • Teachers in Model A schools: 2% from October 2023 and 5% from February
  • Teachers in Models B and C schools: rates were matched with teachers in NSW government schools and Catholic systemic schools from October 2023, with teachers in Model B schools also receiving an additional 1.5% from October 2023.
  • Support staff in Models A, B and C schools: depending on the MEA and particular classification, some staff would receive increases backdated to July 2023.

However, in the draft MEAs that CER presented to the IEU, CER had inserted provisions stipulating that an employee who left prior to the formal commencement of the MEAs would not be entitled to back pay. While most schools had commenced paying the new rates and the back pay in accordance with the in-principle agreements late in 2023, not all schools did this, so the right to back pay was jeopardised.

Union pushes back

The IEU objected to this new provision. Back pay was a key component of the deal, and we insisted the employers honour it. However, CER refused to withdraw this provision.

In an attempt to break the impasse, the IEU lodged a bargaining dispute with the Fair Work Commission in early December 2023. The Commission scheduled a conference about the dispute for 22 January 2024. CER returned to the negotiating table just in time, requesting an urgent meeting with the IEU on 18 January 2024 to resolve all outstanding issues with the technical drafting of the MEAs. At the meeting, CER agreed to remove the provision that would have prevented employees who leave from receiving back pay.

As a result of this meeting, the IEU has now reached agreement with the employers on the terms of all the MEAs.

Improved conditions too

The new MEAs also provide for several improved conditions, including:

Parental leave: Non-term time will now be excluded from the calculation of the 14 weeks’ paid parental leave for the mother, effectively extending the period of paid leave by two weeks. Schools will no longer be able to deduct personal/carer’s leave taken in the four weeks prior to the expected date of birth from the paid parental leave entitlement.

The partner’s entitlement to paid parental leave is also improved because the two weeks of paid concurrent leave will no longer be deducted from their personal/carer’s leave.

In certain cases, temporary employees whose employment ceases during a period of paid parental leave will also have improved rights to paid parental leave.

Evidence for personal/carer’s leave: The evidence required to substantiate an absence on personal/carer’s leave is now more flexible so that evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person will be accepted, instead of evidence satisfactory to the employer.

Right to request flexible working arrangements: New provisions set out in more detail the procedures to be followed by an employer in responding to an employee’s request for a flexible working arrangement. The employee can seek the assistance of the union if their request is rejected.

Vote Yes

For an MEA to be legally binding on an employer, it must be endorsed by a vote of employees of that employer and lodged with the Fair Work Commission for approval. The IEU supports the making of these MEAs and therefore urges members covered by the MEAs to vote “Yes”.

The union congratulates members in Catholic independent schools for their enduring support and perseverance during a prolonged bargaining process.

Your commitment and solidarity empower us to achieve these milestones and secure meaningful victories.

Carol Matthews
Amanda Hioe
Industrial Coordinator