President's comment 18 January 2017

Teacher unions: champions of our profession


After a fantastic day of visiting schools and celebrating the great work being done in them by teachers, principals and school support staff, it is galling to have to once again respond to ill-informed and inflammatory comments from a federal MP – but respond we must.

Not satisfied with being smashed in social media and rebuffed by the Prime Minister for his jibes about teachers and holidays, Andrew Laming is now targeting our profession's unions in a tired old rant about how they are failing their members by standing in the road of "progressive" reforms like performance pay based on student results. Laming's critique is once again founded on baseless assertions that not only ignore the facts, but attempt to rewrite history.

For example, it was teacher unions such as the QTU that led the campaign for compulsory professional qualifications and registration for teachers, just like the more modern example of nurses and their union quoted by Laming. The facts are that it was our union's insistence on this high standard of professionalism in the 1960s and 1970s that led to Queensland being a leader in the regulation of the teaching profession. We remain leaders in this field today.

On the issue of recognition of the profession, Queensland's state school teachers have just benefited from a new enterprise bargaining outcome, negotiated by the QTU with the Palaszczuk government, that creates new skills-based classifications for classroom teachers at high salary levels to recognise and retain great teachers in the classroom. This union-led proposal for professional recognition of teachers was originally tabled with the Newman LNP government in 2012, but rejected by them at that time in preference for the "performance" pay proposals once again proffered by Laming. Just for the record, the international research overwhelmingly proves that paying teachers based on "performance" generally leads to declining professional satisfaction and morale and suppressed outcomes for students: both facts ignored by conservative advocates for paying on results in education.

In another basic error of logic, the fact that teacher unions have successfully negotiated annual performance development processes for teachers and principals and comprehensive systems of professional standards for school-based positions is ignored. Instead, we read fallacious claims of unions opposing measures to enhance quality teaching. 

Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, the numbers speak for themselves. The Australian Education Union and the Independent Education Union have a combined membership of about 275,000 teachers, principals and school support staff. All of them people who voluntarily join their union to protect their professional status, industrial and legal rights and to defend their profession from those who want to make sport of belittling and demeaning a caring profession. I am proud to stand up for my colleagues as a professional teacher and trade unionist.

Kevin Bates