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Teachers refuse to yield

Wednesday, 3rd September, 2008

Teachers have threatened to close schools again next year if an agreement on working conditions cannot be reached with the NSW Government.

Local teachers stopped work for two hours yesterday morning to attend a meeting with their counterparts across the State on Sky Channel.
It is the second work stoppage organised by the NSW Teachers' Federation in response to the Government's "unilateral changes" to their working conditions.

Teachers expressed their anger over three issues: the Government's changes to the Statewide transfer system, which removes incentives given to teachers for working in hard-to-staff areas; lessening qualifications required by TAFE teachers to below university levels, and; the imposition of a ceiling of 2.5 per cent on any pay rise for teachers.

Teachers moved a motion that, if agreement was not reached by the beginning of the 2009 school year, schools and TAFEs would not open "in their normal course". They also resolved to continue industrial action locally and left the door open to further statewide action.The motion was passed unanimously and without debate by local teachers.

President of the NSW Teachers' Federation, Maree O'Halloran, addressing locals via satellite said conditions had to be enshrined in agreements as nothing was safe in light of unilateral changes made by the Government.

"We need genuine negotiation with the State - no pretence," she said.

The Government had won the election on the back of a "Your Rights at Work" campaign to bring down WorkChoices, said Ms O'Halloran.

They had then used the tennets they had fought against - employers forcing change upon employees - against teachers.

She said changes to the staffing system were an attempt to put the onus on schools to recruit teachers.

It "defied common sense" to make such a change and to dismiss calls for salary increases in the lead-up to a predicted teacher shortage, she said.

By 2012, 16,000 teachers will be up for retirement.

If quality delivery of education is to be maintained, teachers need a "professional, competitive salary," said Ms O'Halloran.

Only a 2.5 per cent rise had been allocated to be funded through treasury, she said, which equated to a pay cut given inflation running at 4.5 per cent.

Any other rise would need to come from teachers' conditions or service provision.With the Government not paying retrospective rises, Ms O'Halloran said this gave the Government a big incentive to stall past the award's expiry at the end of the year. Department of Education and Training Director-General, Michael Coutts-Trotter, said yesterday's action was unnecessary.

"With four months to go, this action by the Federation is unnecessary given that discussions between the union and the department are due to commence later this month, followed by a series of weekly meetings," he said.

"NSW public school teachers are among the highest paid in the country with salaries ranging from $50,000 for new teachers to $75,000 for experienced educators.

"The wages of our most experienced classroom teachers have increased by 75 per cent since 1995.

"Teachers received a pay increase of four per cent on the first of January this year after jumping 4.5 per cent a year in 2006 and 2007."  

Premier Morris Iemma later called the teachers "out of touch and irresponsible."

"All they are doing is penalising students and parents," Mr Iemma told reporters in Sydney.

"There is no case for this, they got a pay rise of just over four per cent in January and the EBA (Enterprise Bargaining Agreement) doesn't expire untilthe end of the year. "It is grossly irresponsible."

Mr Iemma denied claims that some schools would be unable to fill positions under the new staffing system.

"Some of those positions we're getting 50 applications," he said.

"There are thousands of casual teachers looking for a full-time job and that's what the system is all about."

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