Australian Teachers at a Rally earlier this Year
There has been an unprecedented wave of action by teachers in many states of Australia. There follows a report by Rob Durbridge, industrial organiser of the AEU
Australian Educators Mount Community and Industrial Action
The expiry of industrial agreements covering schools, preschool and technical education in a number of Australian states has seen an unprecedented wave of action in the community and workplaces. Teachers have even been blamed in the media for threatening the national economy as governments attempt to keep pay rises down and for boosting the strike rate substantially.
Strikes by public school teachers and support staff and TAFE teachers have occurred in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. The issues differ but through them runs the thread of a workforce which is sick and tired of promises by Labor governments which then refuse to recognise the needs of their own employees in the name of fiscal rectitude. By investing in public relations and pitching the message to the community that public education students interests are at stake, the unions have been able to gain a high level of public support even where industrial action is involved. Governments have suffered a loss of credibility through their inability to resolve the disputes in which they have sought to regain what they call "managerial prerogative" over the running and resourcing of school and TAFE systems.
In fact many of these issues are central to the gains made by the unions to improve public education provision, such as agreements prescribing the ratios of staff and students and contact hours. The public supports quality education and the unions are the standard-bearers for this against the bean counters and privatisers who are generally loathed by all.
During the course of a long campaign by the State School Teachers Union of WA the state government went to an election, and lost, breaking the previous clean slate of Labor governments from coast to coast. In the Northern Territory the Labor government squeaked home when it sought re-election during its dispute with the Australian Education Union NT Branch.
The Rudd-Gillard federal government which rode to office in part on its slogan of an "education revolution" (sound familiar?) has proceeded to quickly disappoint public education teachers and support staff by continuing to prioritise funding to private schools, including elite wealthy schools. While promises of additional funding abound, none has yet been seen.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard is also Minister for Education and has shown the usual ministerial penchant for picking up bright new ideas when shown around by employers in exotic locations...ideas which have failed such as "Teach for America" or was it Britain, and the "failing schools" model from New York. The next game promised is performance-linked pay for teachers, for which unions have proposals and which require union agreement if they are to have any chance of success.