Industrial action: is it a valid strategy in 21st century negotiations?

KBates.gifQTU members across the state are today beginning our first protected industrial action ballot under the new industrial relations regime created by the Newman LNP Government. As the ballot papers start to arrive in the mail, it is timely to remind ourselves of the validity of the age-old  strategy of industrial action as an element of negotiations.

Commenced by the submission of our log of claims to the previous state government in November 2011, the current EB7 negotiations have been ongoing for about nine months. The Teachers Certified Agreement 2010 expired on 30 June 2012 and teachers and schools leaders were eligible to receive the first salary increase under a new agreement from 1 July. A full timeline of the negotiations can be viewed here.

During nine months of negotiations there has been one formal offer to teachers: a salary increase of 2.7% per annum linked to the sacrifice of more than 20 working conditions from the current Award and certified agreement, a wage freeze for beginning teachers for three years and a new tangle  of red tape (with associated costs for government and workload increases for teachers and principals) to restrict salary increments for all teachers and school leaders not currently at the top of their respective salary classification.

Recent media comments by the Deputy Premier about the futility of union protests starkly illustrate the divide between the government and the working people of Queensland. When a government is deaf to the cries of workers and their families and focused on tearing down years of accumulated working conditions, programs and initiatives in a frenzy of slashing and burning to allegedly balance the budget, the human cost is often overlooked.

Teachers’ working conditions are the learning conditions of students. We have already heard that some 4000 to 6000 jobs will be lost from the health sector. More than 700 jobs have been axed from central and regional offices of DETE. Education cannot escape further dramatic job losses in the September 11 budget if the government is to reach its target of cutting 20,000 public service jobs and saving $2 billion in the next financial year.

Campbell’s cuts will hurt kids. None of the services targeted in education are surplus to needs. There is no fat to trim from the bare bones of the Queensland education system. Every cut will impact on teachers, school leaders and students and their parents as schools struggle to do even more with even less than they have now.

In the 21st century, industrial action remains one of the most significant options open to workers to pressure an employer to be flexible in negotiations. While negotiations and conciliation in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission are ongoing, teachers and school leaders need to keep open the possibility of taking protected industrial action in term 4 if such action is required.

One of the first acts of the Newman LNP Government was to amend the industrial relations laws of Queensland to require an externally conducted ballot to authorise protected industrial action. Up until this time, unions had appropriately and successfully conducted ballots for protected industrial action for many years. The ballot papers arriving at the preferred mailing address of all QTU members employed with DETE on 13 July 2012 are a consequence of this legislative change and necessary for protected industrial action to occur.

To this end, all members are urged to vote in the postal ballot on protected industrial action being conducted by the Electoral Commission of Queensland and to vote “YES” to the three questions being asked. Details of the ballot process can be accessed here. For QTU members to be allowed to take protected industrial action at least 50% of eligible voters must return the ballot paper and at least 50% of those must support the protected industrial action being proposed. One major Queensland union has already fallen at this first procedural hurdle with the Government then claiming that the workers concerned must then agree with the Government’s position.

We must do all that we can to ensure that Queensland teachers and school leaders at least have the option to take protected industrial action to defend our working conditions and the learning conditions of students.

Kevin Bates
23 August 2012