NSW Catholic Teachers and support staff have taken strike action for the first time in over a decade. Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, the employer of teachers and support staff in Catholic Systemic Schools, have caused outrage with their draft Enterprise Agreement.

Teachers in every NSW Archdiocese have voted for protected industrial action and taken part in rolling stoppages, causing thousands of teachers from over 350 schools across the state to walk off the job. This is a result of sweeping changes proposed to teachers’ and support staff pay and conditions.

At a 700-strong mass meeting at Sydney’s Masonic Centre in July, Lenore Daley, a teacher in the system for 36 years, denounced this as an “unprecedented attack” that would “make us lower class citizens compared to teachers in other systems”. Independent Education Union (IEU) General Secretary John Quessy noted that, “they want to do this in the name of flexibility. [This] is code for they are coming for your rights, they are coming for everything they can get.” The meeting cheered in support when he told teachers they will have to “come back here again and again until the fight is won.”

Quessy called for the proposed Enterprise Agreement to be withdrawn completely. Members’ concerns include threats to class size limits as well as teachers’ entitlements and a radical new pay scale for support staff that would see them earning a fraction of what they do now. Plans to increase face to face teaching time by 10 per cent while also removing teachers’ entitlements such as a lunch break will erode student learning outcomes. It also means each school will require less teaching staff, leading to redeployment or redundancies.

Teachers would be required to complete inservicing during holidays and weekends at their own cost. This would be tied to a new pay scale. Promotional positions would be reduced in schools thereby increasing workload on the remaining teachers and further adding to an overall reduction in the quality of education.

The union has been buoyed by a meeting with the Catholic employers following the industrial action. They have agreed to revise some conditions such as pay cuts to support staff, teacher workload and promotional positions including pay structure. Nothing is settled. However, with the national union membership growing to over 75,000 members as a result of the industrial campaign, the union is well placed to win.

By Troy Wasson

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