EB and the significance of industrial action
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 5, 5 July 2019, page no. 11
The ballot for strike action in June resulted in the highest return for any ballot for industrial action ever conducted by the QTU.
With more than 30,000 members voting in the ballot and 93.5 per cent voting in favour of industrial action, Executive determined to move to direct members to participate in the first statewide strike in more than 10 years.
But not all EB outcomes have been achieved by taking industrial action. In some EBs, the mere willingness of members to participate has resulted in EB outcomes beyond the original offer.
At the time this Journal goes to print, there is still no offer from the government and members’ resolve is strong. If an acceptable offer is made, a strike might be averted, but that is part of the dance of EB negotiations. Both parties enter negotiations with a claim, we attempt to reach agreement on as many matters as we can, and then the employer makes us an offer. However, we invariably find ourselves at a point where we ballot for industrial action, either because the initial offer made by the government is insufficient to settle our claims and members have rejected it or, as in the case of the current negotiations, there is no offer.
So, what’s the hold up?
Quite simply, the department’s negotiations are underpinned by government policy. As part of its budget cycle, the government sets a wages policy. This wages policy is what provides the framework for negotiators. They are advised what salary increases they can make, and anything beyond this needs to be funded through efficiencies. Improvements to conditions that the department may seek need to be supported by Treasury, and a funding envelope for these conditions that establishes the limits for negotiations is then set. Any time a government department wants to go beyond government wages policy or the funding authority that they are provided from Treasury, they need to go back to the government to seek further authority to do so.
As with any employer, the government weighs up the impact of this on their operating budget and other priorities and determines whether the request being made can be accommodated. The process for getting approvals from government can be a lengthy one.
BUT the QTU’s claim should not come as a surprise to the government. During the 2017 election campaign, we sought a commitment that it would do something about the workload of teachers and school leaders and deliver on the classification review. Additionally, the QTU as a matter of practice makes a submission to the government for matters to be addressed in the State Budget. Unsurprisingly, most of the QTU’s priorities for the 2019/2020 State Budget aligned to delivering elements of the QTU’s EB claims in schools and TAFE.
Let’s be clear, the government is reticent to go beyond its wages policy. It sets it so that it knows with some certainty what the most expensive line item in the State Budget (salaries) will be, which enables it to invest its revenue in other priorities. However, when wages policy is not enough, as it has not been on several occasions since at least 1997, the solution is a political and industrial one.
So, we strike, or at least get ready to do so, because the solution becomes a political one.
The directive has been issued, members were due to rally during the school holidays, and State Conference was set to consider the next steps in the campaign and what they will be will depend on the government’s response.
We may end up with an offer that is acceptable and delivers tangible outcomes on gender employment equity, workload, a new classification structure for promotional positions and salaries that are comparable with our interstate colleagues, and members may therefore determine not to proceed with the industrial action.
We may go on strike and the government will seek to settle the negotiations afterwards.
Or we may end up in conciliation and arbitration, where the decision on the EB claims and negotiations, including salary outcomes, would be made by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.
Whatever the path, it is likely that the agreement will have passed its nominal expiry date of 30 June, and the campaign will continue.
Why ballot while negotiations continue?
The processes for a ballot are long, and the QTU wants to give members as much opportunity to have their democratic say as possible. The QTU is also committed to giving parents/carers the notice they need to make alternative arrangements for their children.