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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Tamsin Rose

NSW teachers to strike next week over pay and conditions

Teachers march on Parliament House in December 2021
NSW public school teachers are set to strike over ‘uncompetitive salaries and unsustainable workloads’. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

New South Wales public school teachers will strike next Wednesday after a unanimous vote by the union state executive, amid major concerns over wages and conditions.

Teachers will also be allowed to walk off school grounds when any state government MP is visiting – the first time this kind of action has been rubber-stamped in at least a decade.

Members will also refuse to implement any new government departmental policy or initiative that had been due to be introduced at the start of term two.

The NSW Teachers Federation president, Angelo Gavrielatos, said he had been left with no options after the premier, Dominic Perrottet, “failed” to negotiate a better deal for teachers who have dealt with a raft of Covid-related challenges this year.

“If we don’t pay teachers what they are worth, we won’t get the teachers we need,” Gavrielatos said.

“Acting on uncompetitive salaries and unsustainable workloads is the only way to stop more teachers leaving and attract the people into the profession we need to fix the shortages.

“The profession is now left with no alternative but to act in the interest of our students and our profession, and take industrial action.”

He urged members to “make May 4 too loud to ignore”.

The union is arguing for a pay rise of between 5% and 7.5%. Under the current laws introduced by the Coalition, public sector wage increases are capped at 2.5%.

The education minister, Sarah Mitchell, accused the union executive of putting its own interests ahead of those of students and called a reversal of the plan while negotiations in the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) continued.

“The union [does] not need to interrupt student learning to make an industrial argument,” Mitchell said.

“It is telling that instead of using evidence to argue their position in the IRC they use students, parents and teachers as blackmail.”

Teachers last went on strike in December, before suspending planned industrial actions for term one due to rising Covid cases.

A poll of 10,000 teachers released on Tuesday, found almost three-quarters of respondents had an unmanageable workload while nine out of 10 said their pay did not reflect their expertise and responsibilities.

Seven in 10 were reconsidering their positions due to workload.

The teaching workforce has been under pressure in recent years due to issues exacerbated by Covid, including staff being forced to work outside their specialties to cover shortfalls and some schools returning to remote learning.

The state is also facing a severe secondary teacher shortage, with unreleased federal government modelling suggesting the state will be short-staffed by 1,700 educators within three years.

Teachers are not the only public sector employees agitating for higher wages and better conditions. Nurses have gone on strike twice already this year, and paramedics are planning industrial action in coming weeks.

The state’s opposition leader, Chris Minns, has called for Perrottet to sit down with the union to negotiate a fair deal, noting rising cost-of-living pressures, including fuel and rent.

“Many people, particularly those that are trying to make ends meet, are simply not able to cover their mortgage, get their kids through school or meet the fundamentals of a busy life in NSW,” Minns said.

He wanted the premier and treasurer, Matt Kean, to tell workers if the wage cap was going to be scrapped at the upcoming state budget to avoid the industrial action.

“If we can avoid industrial action between now and when the budget comes down in June, that’s good news for the families of NSW,” he said.

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