Catholic systemic schools: Get set before agreements expire

In October 2023, after a two-year campaign and concerted industrial action, teachers and support staff in Catholic systemic schools won historic, justified and overdue pay rises that went a long way to recognising the importance of the work they do.

The Broken Bay Diocese paid 1.5% more to both their teaching and non-teaching staff and confirmed extra release time for both primary and secondary teachers in their Work Practices Agreement. Support staff in this diocese also received 8% increases on top of the historic pay rises support staff in other dioceses had won.

Agreements covering teachers and support staff in 10 Catholic systemic dioceses expire in October this year, while the Broken Bay agreements expire at the end of December.

At the meeting of the IEU’s Council in mid-June, we will start discussions about our claim for the next round of bargaining.

Teachers across the state will recall that the NSW government proposed that if it provided the substantial pay increase in October 2023, teachers would then need to accept increases of just 2.5% per annum for the following three years.

Union members understood that these paltry increases would not fix the staff shortage crisis – and without solving the staffing crisis, it is very difficult to address workloads.

Members of the NSW Teachers Federation did not accept this proposal, nor did IEU members in Catholic systemic schools. The unions, and common sense, prevailed.

Staffing crisis means heavy workloads

Data from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) shows that Catholic schools in NSW have the highest student-teacher ratios of any sector, with an average of almost 15:1, compared to 14:1 across government schools and 12:1 for the independent sector.

Fewer teachers educating more students can only mean more work for our members employed in systemic schools.

Catholic systemic employers need to engage with the IEU to address critical workload concerns. Members provide numerous reports of their colleagues leaving systemic schools to pick up employment in other sectors or in other industries due to unsustainable workload pressures in their workplace.

Public sector pay increases

The NSW government is proposing pay increases for public servants of 10.5% over the next three years, a figure that includes legislated increases to the superannuation guarantee.

Reaction from public sector unions has been muted at best. The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, the NSW Police Association and the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union are calling for substantial pay increases above this proposal.

The NSW government says its offer is a starting point and it hopes to negotiate “productivity reforms” with unions “in exchange for further pay increases”.

We need more education students

The one-off huge boost to teachers’ starting salaries in 2023 will not be enough to attract students into teaching courses.

Our members know that only huge improvements to real wages and alleviation of unsustainable workloads are crucial to ensuring we can recruit and retain staff in our schools. Until then, students are likely to keep shunning education degrees.

On 21 May 2024, the Daily Telegraph reported that the proportion of NSW school leavers entering teaching degrees had fallen for a third year in a row: just 4.74 per cent of students had applied, down from 6.12 per cent in 2021.

In September 2023, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said the number of young people going into teaching had fallen by about 12 per cent over the past 10 years. He said only half those who start a teaching degree finish it and, of those who finish it, 20 per cent leave after less than three years.

These are bleak statistics, but our history shows that united we can effect lasting improvements to salaries and conditions.

Stand together, have a say

As we did in 2022-23, IEU members will need to stand together to demand better salaries and reasonable workloads.

If you want to have a say in the 2024 claim, get set to hold chapter meetings later this year so members can discuss the claim and endorse it. Talk to your colleagues who have not yet joined their union and invite them to get on board. We are stronger together and collectively we can make a difference.