NSW Teachers Prepare to Strike

NSW teachers will strike next Wednesday, May 4th. The state’s Teachers Federation made the announcement yesterday, after a prolonged struggle with the NSW government over pay conditions. Teachers join nurses, paramedics, and transport workers fighting against public service wage caps.

The decision to strike was made unanimously by the Union’s executive, alongside an immediate ban on the implementation of new government policies set to debut in term two. The Federation also authorised its members to walk of school grounds if a state government MP enters them. This is the first time this kind of action has been approved by the union in at least a decade.

NSW Premier Perrottet yesterday became the first politician to face a walkout. At least 40 teachers of Marsden High School walked off school grounds in response to the premier’s arrival to open a new education precinct. Perrottet dismissed the action, saying “unions don’t run our schools.”

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell also found herself on the receiving end of a walkout yesterday.

Current legislation, introduced by the Coalition government, caps public service pay rises at 2.5%. But the Teachers’ Federation is arguing for an increase of 5 to 7.5%. Annual inflation jumped to a record high of 5.1% on Wednesday. Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said it was evidence “everything is going up except wages.”

NSW has been suffering from a high school teacher shortage for years now. Unreleased federal government modelling suggests the state will be short-staffed by 1,700 educators within 3 years.

COVID has only exacerbated the pressures the teaching profession has been under. Many educators have been forced by shortfalls to cover classes outside their specialties, and cope with increased workload and stress as classes were moved online.

In a poll of 10,000 teachers, the Teachers Federation reported 90% said they weren’t being paid enough. 73% felt their workload was unmanageable, and 70% said they were reconsidering their positions.

The Federation’s President, Angelo Gavrielatos, was clear. “If we don’t pay teachers what they are worth, we won’t get the teachers we need…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.”

But NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet disagrees. The Premier said teachers “have a right to be frustrated,” but that “it’s disappointing that they’re choosing to strike,” in the context of COVID disruption. He asserted he had “made it very clear that we’ll work through these issues and we’ll get a good outcome on the other side.”

The state’s Education Minister Sarah Mitchell was similarly disappointed, claiming “The union [does] not need to interrupt student learning to make an industrial argument. It is telling that instead of using evidence to argue their position in the IRC they use students, parents and teachers as blackmail.”

The Teachers Federation defended their decision to strike.

Nurses have already gone on strike twice just this year, and paramedics are planning industrial action in the coming weeks. It’s clear, as Morey says, that “The living standards of nurses, paramedics, firefighters, teachers and all manner of public sector workers are eroding every day [the wage cap] is in place. As the nation’s largest employer, the NSW government’s tight-fisted austerity is also holding back workers in the private sector from getting a pay rise that keeps pace with the cost of living”.

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