26 March 2014

School leaders in the front line

Queensland's state school education leaders - particularly principals and deputy principals - are dealing with major challenges from the many policy and legislative changes being pushed through by the Queensland Government.

The Queensland Teachers' Union (QTU) is in negotiation with the Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE) about actions from the "Great Teachers = Great Results" plan which will have, or are already having, significant impacts on the workloads and practices of school leaders. The QTU will not accept the imposition of policies that adversely affect the job security, professional standing, remuneration, workload and recruitment of our education leader members.


Last year, as part of its Great Teachers=Great Results plan, the Newman government proposed performance-based fixed-term contracts for all new principal and deputy principal positions from 2016.

Then, late last year, it carried industrial legislation that allows it by regulation to declare positions to be high-income senior employees.  The income threshold is $129,300 per annum, but that includes employer superannuation contributions.  The regulation would lead to employees being placed on individual contracts and outside of awards and collective agreements.

The doctors’ dispute

The dispute about contracts for doctors in the public health system provides many insights into the problems of contracts and the attitude and tactics of the government.

The issues raised by doctors include:

  • the power of the employer to unilaterally vary the contract (The Courier-Mail (CM) 4 March, page 4)
  • the command-and-control nature of contracts that threaten medical professionalism (CM 4 March, page 4)
  • dismissal without any access to independent arbitration (CM 4 March, page 4)
  • job security (CM 5 March, page 10)
  • income put at risk through the employer setting unachievable key performance indicators (CM 5 March, page 10)
  • unilateral changes of rosters without regard to management of fatigue (CM 6 March)
  • unilateral transfer of doctors from one location to another (CM 7 March).

 The government’s tactics are also noteworthy: adopt an extreme position and then make concessions that still leave employees worse off; vilify doctors when they continue to oppose the changes; threaten them with replacement from interstate or overseas; and then seek to negotiate directly with doctors claiming their unions aren’t properly informing them.  Click here to see more.

The QTU and principal contracts

The QTU is opposed to contracts for principals and deputy principals.  That has always been our position.  The only separate employment agreements we have agreed to were to provide for payments to low Low Socio-Economic Status (SES) National Partnership Agreement principals and executive principals.  Both forms had rights of reversion and neither took principals outside the scope of awards or collective agreements (or mainstream industrial laws).

The current QTU membership survey is showing job security as the single most important issue for QTU members.  The QTU can see no reason why principals and deputy principals should have to sacrifice that most important condition.

In late 2013, the QTU conducted a ballot of QTU members for industrial action if the department sought to implement a number of its Great Teachers=Great Results actions.  One of them was the introduction of contracts for principals and deputy principals.

Over 23,500 members voted, with 92 per cent voting in favour of industrial action.  Click here to see more.

While the ballot was conducted last year, the QTU has re-affirmed that those membership decisions still stand and will be acted on if necessary.

Some principals have mused about whether or not the membership would support them on this issue.

The answer is “yes”, and the reasons are twofold.  Firstly, they are opposed to contracts and job insecurity for any QTU member.

Secondly, they know if contracts and unreasonable key performance indicators (KPIs) are imposed on principals and deputy principals, the demands to meet the KPIs, with all the attendant workload and stress, will flow down through the system.

DETE’s response to KPMG’s Review of Service Delivery, for example, talks about “…a clear accountability framework with cascading KPIs for central office, regions and providers [i.e. schools].”  Cascades only ever flow down, though an accelerating avalanche might be a more apt analogy.  All QTU members know how this works.

The QTU will continue to oppose contracts for principals and deputy principals.

 Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union