The deal has been honoured: where does that leave teachers now?

Labor’s delay in honouring the deal reveals the longstanding undervaluing of teachers and education in Australian public policy.

“We voted you in and we will vote you out” 

The statement rang out across airport tiles, and, presumably, around the Premier’s head. Five months after coming into government, Chris Minns walked back on a deal that was made with the New South Wales Teachers Federation before his premiership — a deal which helped pave Labor’s way to power. Teachers began protesting in earnest. 

Since 2021, teachers around NSW have taken strike action, amidst negotiations with the state government. The key issue in those negotiations: the demands of the “More than Thanks” campaign by the Teacher’s Federation. Sick of platitudes without material change, the campaign sought to increase teachers’ pay and reduce their administrative burden. 

Kyol Blakeney, a primary school teacher and former USyd SRC President, stated to Honi, “the More Than Thanks campaign was built to draw attention to and fix the systematic problems around teachers’ working conditions and salaries. After years of gathering data from teachers about their, in many cases, crippling workload, it was revealed that the time a teacher spends working outside of normal hours is unreasonable and unrealistic. 

“Not only were teachers not being paid a competitive salary to do this job, they were also expected to achieve unrealistic expectations.” 

Indeed, the statistics around teaching are stark. One in five teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Teachers report working 60-hour weeks to keep up with parent, student and government demands. Teacher shortages around NSW are ongoing, with a shortfall of 1700 secondary teachers expected in the next three years. Enrolments in teaching degrees are down by 30%.  

Blakeney, reflecting on the realities of the profession, said, “Night after night, teachers stay up and mark, plan, analyse student data and create individual learning plans for their students, only to have goal posts shift, their time taken up with unnecessary administration tasks, or face the real threat of burn out. 

“They deal with abuse and threats from both students and parents and they are often told how to do their own job, for which they are professionally qualified to do.”   

Before the last state election, Labor entered negotiations with the Teachers Federation, and had promised to abolish the 2.5% wage cap on public sector workers introduced by the former Coalition government. The cap meant that teachers’ salaries had not kept up with inflation. Blakeney said that the agreement “gave hope to not just teachers but also other public servants across the state.” 

According to the Federation, Labor reiterated their commitment to remove the wage cap again in negotiations in June. However, in August of this year, negotiations fell apart as the government sought to reintroduce the 2.5% wage cap from 2025-28.  

The mood in staff rooms around the state was soured. Blakeney said, “Myself and my colleagues were deflated. I felt hopeless. Once again, we were left out in the rain with staff shortages, crippling workloads, burnout, and an uncompetitive salary.”  

After consistent pressure, the government has agreed to abolish the cap. It will mean that starting salaries for teachers will increase from $75,791 to $85,000, and the highest salary will rise from $113,042 to $122,100. Annual pay increases will be in line with the NSW government pay policy, which will be announced in the Budget later this month. 

However, Labor’s delay in honouring the deal reveals a hesitancy that has long underlined education policy in Australia — a fundamental misreading of the importance that teachers play in building the future of the nation, and a willingness to view education as a place where cost-cutting measures can be implemented without consequences. 

As another teacher told Honi, “We had to fight so long and so hard to get this pay raise. It is a small step. Where is the funding for public schools, where are the proper resources for our kids, where is the understanding from the wider community about the importance of teaching and teachers? 

“We wanted this years ago, it is too late now.” 

Honouring the deal is an historic win, making NSW teachers the most well-paid in the country. It will attract new people to the profession, and help to retain teachers already in the profession. 

“Upon the announcement that the Minns Government has decided to honour the deal, there is hope again. We have been heard. It is a demonstration of what can be achieved when workers stick together.” Blakeney said.

But a pay increase will not solve the decades of underfunding and undervaluing of the public education system by politicians. It will not address the immediate teacher shortages impacting student learning around the state, nor will it provide the resources required for teachers to teach. 

“Children are magic. They have the ability to pick you up without even meaning to. But teaching and learning is hard work. I love my job. It’s the best job in the world,” Blakeney said. 

“But it can feel hollow and impossible without support, adequate tools and resourcing from a government that wants results from us, but has to be fought with every step of the way to give us what we need to do it.”