Industrial battle with teachers looms as students head back to school

Students will return to public schools next month against the backdrop of what are expected to be the most bitterly contested award negotiations between teachers and the NSW Department of Education in more than a decade.

The NSW Teachers Federation wants pay rises of up to 7.5 per cent a year and two extra hours per week of planning time,saying skyrocketing workloads and stagnating salaries have put many people off joining the profession,leading to worsening shortages.

Teachers say shortages will continue without better pay.

Teachers say shortages will continue without better pay.Jamieson Murphy

However,the Department of Education is unlikely to breach a 2.5 per cent annual growth cap on public sector wages introduced by the Coalition government 10 years ago. The policy only allows the cap to be breached if productivity gains are negotiated.

The award expires in December and the federation wants negotiations to begin in October. Schools in Greater Sydney are due to begin reopening on October 25,when teachers will have to deal with the significant learning,developmental and emotional impacts on students due to the lockdown.

A spokesman for the department said teacher salaries were competitive both nationally and internationally,and planning time was comparable with other states. “Any changes to teacher salaries and conditions will need to be considered in the context of these negotiations and the wages policy,” he said.

Over the past decade,the federation has focused its substantial resources on campaigning for more public school funding from the federal government. It has now redirected its attention to wages and conditions in NSW,amid mounting discontent from teachers.

It will begin a statewide advertising campaign on Thursday,pressing its case with parents and voters. The union has not ruled out industrial action,and has been holding rolling stop work meetings in regional and some city schools where teacher shortages have disrupted classes.

The federation’s president,Angelo Gavrielatos,said the wage claim of between five and 7.5 per cent was based on the findings of an inquiry chaired by former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop,which found teacher salaries had fallen well behind those of similar professions.

“We cannot fix the shortages problem until we fix the wages and workload problem,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

“As we have seen so clearly demonstrated in the past 18 months,teachers in public schools are committed professionals determined to do whatever they can to ensure every child gets a high-quality education. But there aren’t enough of them right now.”

Mr Gavrielatos said the government should consider lifting teachers’ wages beyond the cap,given the “significant change in the nature and value and skills since the last time there was an evaluation before the industrial relations commission in 2002-03”.

The NSW government has acknowledged a teacher shortage is biting in the regions,some areas of Sydney and in high school disciplines such as maths. More shortages loom as enrolment numbers for education degrees fall by a third and half of trainees fail to finish their courses.

A tutoring package to help students recover from remote learning that was introduced after the last lockdown - gand is likely to be repeated - also reduced the pool of casual teachers,as many took jobs as tutors and demand rose due to bans on working with cold symptoms.

There will also be an increasing need for teachers as the state’s population grows and a multibillion-dollar building program creates new classrooms and schools which will have to be staffed. One education economist estimated the statewould need 11,000 new teachers by 2030.

The government allocated $124.8 million in this year’s state budget to a teacher supply strategy,although it has not yet announced what the strategy will involve. One element will be a recruitment campaign,and new incentives for teachers to move to the bush.

Tom Alegounarias,a former chair of the NSW Education Standards Authority and chair of the Educational Measurement and Assessment Hub at Sydney University,said the nature of teaching had changed over the past 15 years,but employment conditions did not reflect this.

“At the heart of it is that teachers feel there is a lack of regard for the complexity of their work,and what is required to do it properly. Teachers who do their work the way they know it should be done are working much harder than they should be for their conditions and pay,” he said.

“The world has changed,teachers’ arrangements have not caught up,young teachers know it and feel it and resent it.”

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Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald

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