From the President: With the future in mind
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 1, 15 February 2019, page no. 7
Welcome back to the school year. While debate rages across Australia on the role of neo-liberal economics and the “broken rules” of the current industrial relations system in suppressing wage growth and deepening economic inequality, teachers and principals in state schools and TAFE will have to engage with the current system in pursuit of improvements to wages and working conditions.
Once every three years we get the chance to negotiate with the state government, the employer, on wages and working conditions. This triennial cycle of processes for enterprise bargaining has simultaneously reached the stage of negotiations for a new agreement in both schools and TAFE Queensland*, presenting a mix of challenges and opportunities.
Much has been written on the content of QTU claims in negotiations, and our public policy positions provide more detail of the sorts of issues we will pursue in seeking to win with members. For thousands of new teachers, this will be your first experience with the negotiation process, while others are prepared for their 9th or 10th episode, depending on which sector you work in.
The outcomes of 25 years of negotiations are often overlooked because of our varying experiences of the negotiation process. Enterprise bargaining agreements struck since 1994 have resulted in the maximum salary for a classroom teacher increasing more than 200 per cent (the introduction of highly accomplished and lead teacher classifications will enhance this even further), the employment of thousands of additional teachers to reduce class sizes, and a sustained effort to increase permanency for teachers and maintain tenure for principals and other school leaders.
A wide variety of factors have enabled us to achieve all of this:
- our membership and growth
- our capacity as an organisation
- underpinned by deep democratic processes
- our independence from political parties
- our willingness to act when necessary to win.
For many years we have known that governments do not take a benevolent approach to negotiations with one of their biggest groups of employees. When the Borbidge government introduced “Leading Schools”, we undertook multiple strikes to protect schools from unfettered devolution of decision-making. When the Beattie government offered a 9 per cent pay rise in 2000, we went on strike and fought a tough arbitration in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission to win increases of 14.7 per cent. When the Newman government threatened to take away decades of negotiated working conditions, we took industrial action and prepared to strike before winning the right to maintain every one of those conditions.
The 2019 negotiations are about the future of the teaching profession in Queensland. Facing critical shortages of teachers, we have a very real problem attracting people to the teaching profession and retaining them. These negotiations must act to diminish the impact of salaries and working conditions as a disincentive for entry to our profession and remaining as a teacher in the long term.
Whether we can achieve this through negotiation alone is yet to be seen. Governments need to be convinced that they should agree to fair and necessary improvements to salaries and working conditions. We will work together and be prepared to act to achieve this outcome.
*TAFE teachers at Central Queensland University are subject to a different agreement that is only in its second of five years of operation.