NSW Teachers Fight On
Written by: Seb A. on 13 April 2023
For the past three years, New South Wales public school teachers have been engaged in their biggest campaign in decades.
The More Than Thanks campaign waged by the members of the NSW Teachers Federation to secure desperately needed improvements to working conditions and pay, involves a fight for the health and viability of public education in New South Wales.
Teachers have been warning that the Coalition NSW Government was deaf to the concerns of teachers, parents and students since the release of the Gallop Inquiry in February 2021. Decisive action was needed to deal with a looming teacher shortage that is well and truly upon us now in 2023.
Since early last year schools across the state struggled to ensure teachers were in front of every class. Countless classes have had to be merged with a single teacher supervising because of a lack of teachers. There are currently 3,300 permanent teacher vacancies in NSW that the government has not been able to fill.
The Gallop Inquiry, the NSW Department of Education’s own research and the Sydney University Business School Buchanan Report (released in January 2023 suggests teachers need a pay increase of up to 25.5%) all draw the same conclusions. What needs to be done to fix the problem? Raise teacher salaries to attract and retain people and deal with the unsustainable workloads teachers have been increasingly burdened with, workload that takes teacher time away from the classroom and towards ever increasing data collection and administration.
Countless teachers are quitting. Young people are simply not drawn to teaching because of the pay that has flatlined compared to jobs in the private sector.
There is no mystery about what is going on.
Three state wide strikes
The campaign saw three 24 hour strikes between late 2021 and mid-2022, along with hundreds of local walkouts in schools. Each 24-hour strike saw more teachers taking action, and more teacher unionists taking to the streets outside NSW Parliament to show their strength. The campaign has been strong, united and very well supported, demonstrating the collective power of teachers united in action.
Despite this strong campaign, the NSW Coalition Government and their Department of Education imposed an Award on teachers through the Industrial Relations Commission in November 2022 that miserably failed to offer any solutions to the crisis. It imposed a 2.53% increase in line with the state sector wages policy and nothing on workload.
The profoundly conservative, anti-union and anti-public education, Perrottet’s Coalition Government seemed determined to allow the deepening crisis in public education to worsen.
NSW teachers, nurses and other unions have worked very hard to ensure that government was turfed out – and rightly so.
But we know that the election of an ALP Government in NSW will not be the end of the struggle. The campaign in the lead up to 25 March was not simply a campaign to have the ALP elected – it was a show of strength to make the Labor Party understand that we are strong and united and will hold them to their commitments. Or look out!
And those commitments are not light.
Prior to victory, Chris Minns, now NSW Premier, committed to the union that if elected the ALP would
• scrap the public sector wage cap,
• legislate to restore power of the Industrial Relations Commission,
• rescind the Award imposed in November last year,
• direct the Department of Education to open negotiations for a new Award that considers the union’s demands around pay and workload,
• fully fund NSW public schools to the Schooling Resource Standard
• recruit more badly needed school counsellors and
• permanently fund the tutoring program that was introduced during the pandemic
(The Schooling Resources Standard is an estimate of the bare minimum public funding required by a school to provide an appropriate education for its students. Most government schools in NSW operate at 90% of the SRS while all private schools are overfunded in terms of the SRS)
We will hold you to your word
Chris Minns made the first four commitments in October last year, both in a media release and before the nearly 300 teachers that sit in NSW Teachers Federation State Council. We will hold him to his words.
Minns is an economic rationalist and would never have made those commitments without seeing the strength and unity of teachers demonstrated in the biggest strikes and rallies we have held in decades.
The campaign in the weeks leading up the election and the unprecedented teacher and health workers turnout at booths on election day were just as much about sending a very clear message to Minns and the ALP: we are strong, we have power in numbers, and we are united. We will hold you to your word.
So far, Minns and the ALP seem to have understood the message. In his victory speech, Minns directly referred to the effect teachers, nurses and other unions had on the 25 March result. This has been repeated several times in the media since by Minns and by the new Minister for Education, Prue Car.
The NSW Teachers Federation has had major blues with ALP governments in the past and will do so into the future. The ALP will need to be held to account to keep their promises to the workers of NSW – and that will be done in the same way that the promises were extracted: by preparedness to take strong, united industrial action.
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