State Liberal government cutbacks across Australia resulted last month in the largest teachers’ strike in Victorian history and 10,000 workers taking to Brisbane’s streets.
In NSW too, Public Service Association members took part in a large stop work meeting on October 8, in defiance of orders from the Industrial Relations Commission, against O’Farrell’s savaging of tens of thousands of jobs and tearing up entitlements.
Teachers in NSW have also been in the firing line—and as one of the largest and best organised public sector unions are in a good position to stand up to the Liberals.
The O’Farrell government continues to pursue its Local Schools, Local Decisions agenda with gusto, announcing $1.7 billion in cuts to the education budget last month, which mainly target office-based positions in the Education Department. All up 1800 jobs in education will go, including 800 TAFE jobs. TAFE fees will rise by 9.5 per cent.
However, since organising an inspiring 24-hour strike and Town Hall mass meeting on June 27, the NSW Teachers Federation has all but ruled out further industrial action for the remainder of 2012.
It is argued that this would see us face massive fines (so far our fines have been miniscule), and the leadership has even unleashed fears of deregistration. Even in the unlikely event of deregistration, the union would continue to operate and pay its organisers. There is no chance that O’Farrell could politically isolate Federation in the way the deregistered Victorian Builders Labourers Federation were 1987—such that the union was seriously damaged by other unions poaching their members.
Further industrial action remains a necessity to win. Strike action would also be popular. Federation’s own research found that more than 70 per cent of people who voted Liberal in the 2011 state election wouldn’t have if they’d known $1.7 billion would be cut from the education budget.
Federation has instead called a community protest on Sunday November 18 involving teachers, parents and other unionists. This has the potential to rebuild momentum to take on O’Farrell’s cuts, and could be tens of thousands strong. But it needs to be part of an ongoing campaign that includes stoppages, rather than just being a one-off event.
We must also condemn the federal Labor government, for their watering-down of the Gonski school funding recommendations as well as Labor’s own Empowering Local Schools devolution agenda.
Further, Gillard’s recent promises to increase funding to all private schools, even the richest, will entrench the destructive Howard government approach which has inflated funding for many richer private schools. Already 62 per cent of the federal government schools spending goes to private schools.
Tragically, Federation’s Senior Officers risk undermining the enthusiasm of members to fight by accepting a “schools staffing agreement” for 2012-16 that would further weaken teachers’ right to permanency.
As recently as August, Federation President Maurie Mulheron wrote: “Local Schools, Local Decisions is designed to accelerate growth in temporary positions. Federation’s campaign is intended to preserve permanency.”
Yet this deal would enable the conversion of permanent teaching positions to temporary ones, and give principals increased power to refuse transfers. The agreement also contradicts our own much vaunted “Putting Students First Charter”, which demands that: “There will be no overall decrease in the level of permanent teaching positions”.
Unfortunately, when the Senior Officers presented the deal Federation’s 12-member Executive on September 18 passed it with two votes against.
The following day, Education Department Director-General Michelle Bruniges sent an email advising all teachers of this decision, while Education Minister Adrian Piccoli crowed that: “Another major reform under Local Schools, Local Decisions is being implemented as planned. I am pleased to advise that the Teachers Federation’s Executive has decided to recommend to its Council that a new Staffing Agreement be entered into with the Department of Education and Communities to operate from Day 1, Term 4, 2012”.
While Piccoli is selling this deal as a fait accompli, Federation Council meeting on October 27 has the authority to reject it. The Activist Teachers Network (ATN) has started distributing a leaflet “Vote NO on Liberals’ Local Schools Staffing ‘Deal’” to Councillors and rank-and file-teachers. We are also encouraging schools to fax motions rejecting the deal to Federation before Executive meets again on October 23.
By Mark Goudkamp
Move this motion (drafted by the ATN)
This meeting of Federation members at __________________ rejects the Liberals’ Local Schools, Local Decisions Staffing agreement. The conversion of permanent positions into temporary ones and the further undermining of transfer rights are fundamental attacks on teachers’ permanency and security and go to the heart of the Local Schools, Local Decisions agenda.
We stand ready to support Federation in taking whatever industrial and political action necessary to win a staffing agreement that secures permanency.