Ten thousand NSW Teachers marched from Hyde Park to Parliament House yesterday to demand better working conditions over growing staff shortages, rising workloads, and stagnant wages.
The rally, which is the latest action in their More Than Thanks campaign, highlighted teachers’ need for a salary increase of between 5 to 7.5 per cent a year. Under the current laws, salary pay increases are capped at 2.5 per cent across the public sector.
The NSW Teachers Federation executive came to a unanimous vote last Tuesday for teachers to walk off the job for 24 hours, after negotiations with the government came to a halt. The union also authorised staff to walk off if NSW government MPs entered school grounds, and to stay out if the MPs remained on-site.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet rejected the strike movement, telling reporters on Monday: “We are not going to have our state hostage to union bosses and the Labor Party.”
This is the second teacher’s strike in a decade in response to a state-wide staffing crisis following last December, where more than 10 000 teachers quit the profession.
NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos criticised the teacher shortages that have come as a result of lack of government support at the expense of learning opportunities for children.
“Despite our best efforts, every single day hundreds of classes are being split. That means thousands of students are left with minimal supervision,” Gavrielatos said.
“To say that their learning is being disrupted is a massive understatement. And yet, the premier and the minister want to lecture us about disruption.”
School principal Michael Rathborne spoke of the staff shortages within the school that resulted in 174 absences last term where at least one class had been cancelled every day.
“We’re battling under the weight of nearly 1000 classes that needed to be covered last term,” he said.
Rathborne also condemned the staffing shortages which had left nearly 50 other principals without a full-time school counsellor.
“We have a counsellor one day a week for over 310 students and we were out nearly four weeks without one last term. I don’t believe we’ll ever get our school counsellor.”
Principal Melissa Proctor also spoke about the inability to effectively staff schools due to teaching shortages. With 98 per cent of students in her school coming from a non-English speaking background, the shortages have left her workplace with a deficit: “I cannot find enough English as an additional language or dialect teachers for students struggling to learn English.
“I cannot find enough Covid-intensive learning and support teachers for students who have fallen behind due to the pandemic.”
Nancy Penfold, a primary school teacher, underlined the importance of teachers as a “voice of many”, and advocates for social justice. As a fifth-generation Aboriginal teacher, Penfold raised equity and inclusion in the classroom as vital for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities.
She said that though COVID has increased the complexity of teachers’ jobs, it “hasn’t created a teacher shortage, it’s just made a bad situation worse”.
“I am preparing students for a world that is in crisis. The children and the youth that we are teaching are our emerging leaders. They need and deserve better from our government.
“Today we advocate for our students, for ourselves, we deserve more than thanks.”
The More Than Thanks Campaign launched in September last year, and aims to address teachers’ concerns about the profession, including the impact of shortages on students’ learning environment.
Alisa Stephens, a teacher of 15 years, described the growing complexity of the job as one that did not accurately reflect the working conditions.
“There’s been no change in release time for secondary teachers since the 1950s, and since the 1980s for primary teachers,” Stephens said.
“Teaching is a job that is simply impossible to do in our paid hours and this government knows that.”
Gavrielatos commended other union groups who had sent messages of support or had organised a contingent and marched in solidarity with the teacher’s movement. The groups included NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA), the United Workers Union (UWU), The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA) and the Queensland Teachers’ Union (QTU).
“Children can’t put their education on hold. They can’t wait for the premier and the government to keep ignoring their needs,” he said.
The strike follows Sunday’s May Day rally, celebrating labourers and the working class, and dedicated to mobilising worker power and collective action.
Students are reminded of USyd staff fighting for the same cause and are urged to join the picket line next week on May 11 and 12 in solidarity.
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Student contingent to the picket event