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Teachers unions join forces in historic strike for better pay and job conditions

Teachers from NSW's public and Catholic schools took 24-hour strike action over pay and conditions in Sydney's CBD.

Tens of thousands of teachers from both the public and independent school sector marched to NSW Parliament House yesterday morning in a historic strike for increased pay and an end to staff shortages.

The 24-hour strike comes just days before the beginning of the school holidays, after public and Catholic education management failed to meet the demands of the NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union (IEU) NSW/ACT Branch.

It is the first time the two unions have taken industrial action together since 1996, and the second time in history.

“We’re here because we can’t accept the crippling teacher shortages, and how they’re costing our kids their opportunities to learn and their future,” said NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos.

Gavrielatos criticised the NSW Government’s recent attempts at addressing staff shortages and underpayment, including the failure of the 2021 Teacher Supply Strategy in attracting and retaining talent.

He also condemned the “globally discredited” performance pay system recently proposed by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

“Teachers are performing over and above the call of duty every day; they’re just not getting paid,” he said.

IEU NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam said that whilst Catholic teachers were not formally bound by the government’s public sector salary cap, it limited the union’s ability to negotiate for higher wages with their employers.

“We need to raise teachers’ salaries to be comparable to other professions. We need to increase time relief to provide teachers with the capacity to do their job. And in Catholic schools, we need to ensure that IEU support staff are paid the same as their state school counterparts,” Northam said.

Christine Wilkinson, IEU NSW/ACT Branch President, described the pressure that casual teachers are under, with many being asked to take on extra lessons on a daily basis, or supervise students in overcrowded classrooms.

“Pay teachers what they are worth. We need an increase of 10-15 per cent over two years. Give our support staff a fair deal. Let our teachers teach and cut the paperwork. Allow time to plan, and end staff shortages,” Wilkinson said.

Githabul woman and Cabbage Tree Island Public School Principal, Dyonne Anderson, highlighted the challenges that teachers face in Aboriginal communities.

“I don’t want to start work at 4am doing emails because I’m in class throughout the day filling in for teachers I don’t have,” Anderson said.

Union members also expressed concern about the future of the profession, emphasising the need to improve working conditions to support new graduates and retain experienced staff.

“When I started teaching in 2018, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but I thought it would be about the kids and the classroom,” said Ashfield Public School teacher Gabriella McGrath.

“Even in my four short years of teaching, I see that the passion we had as young teachers is being slowly drained from us,” McGrath said.

Student unions and student teachers have released statements of support for teachers on strike, including USyd’s Student Representative Council, the UTS Students’ Association, and the National Union of Students.

The teachers strike comes after a week of heavy industrial action, including walkouts from nurses and midwives across multiple NSW hospitals, and decreased travel services from public transport workers.

Increasing industrial action follows the handing down of the NSW budget last week, which offered only a marginal increase on public sector wages from 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent, which is below the rate of inflation.