NSW: a sobering glimpse of the future

The NSW govenment pioneered many of the approaches to industrial relations and the public service currently being advocated by our own state government, so looking over the border can offer a sobering glimpse of what could be coming our way.

Teachers in NSW face pay increases restricted to the government wages policy (2.5 per cent), the introduction of school autonomy and changes to teacher career and pay structures.

During 2011, NSW’s Coalition government commissioned an audit of the public service, just as our own LNP government did when elected. According to the NSW commission of audit, two of the main constraints on the management of the pubic service were:

  • “industrial arrangements that are cumbersome and complicated and include matters which should more properly be agency and management prerogatives; and
  • inflexible position classifications and structures with too many layers causing confusion about responsibilities”.

Key recommendations included:

  • a restructure of the public service and a realignment of departments under new Directors-General
  • reductions in the number of public service employees through the implementation of a policy to manage “excess” employees
  • the introduction of performance management processes
  • a review of the Industrial Relations Act
  • rationalisation of the award system
  • amending government wages policy to include a provision that workforce management policies (such as staff ratios) should not be included in industrial instruments
  • a reduction in layers of middle management.

The commission of audit suggested that the updated Industrial Relations Act should:

  • limit the definition of “industrial matters”
  • provide the government sufficient flexibility to alter workforce policies in response to emerging priorities, changes in economic conditions or changes in service delivery design.

Under the subsequent NSW Industrial Relations Act, the Industrial Relations Commission can no longer make decisions contrary to government policy (in other words, if the government says no wage rises above 2.5 per cent, the commission cannot rule otherwise). It may award a further 0.5 per cent a year per annum based on real cost savings, but only after these have been implemented and audited.

There has also been an eleven-fold increase in fines for unions disobeying commission orders (up to $220,000). This means that the commission is adopting a view that once an award is made, no industrial action is allowed. The implications for campaigning are monumental, even for QTU members’ localised campaigns to improve conditions within schools. Right to Teach/Right to Learn campaigning on issues such as behaviour management, for example, falls into the category of industrial action.

Now the NSW government has introduced autonomy measures in schools – including local hire and fire, two line budgets and increased temporary employment of teachers. There is also a new pay scale for teachers and annual pay increments have been removed.

If these proposed changes were to be introduced in Queensland, the school-based management guarantees and the consultative provisions of the certified agreement would be at risk. During EB negotiations, we could therefore see the government arguing for the removal of guarantees around:

  • bus and playground supervision
  • meal breaks
  • class size targets
  • teacher numbers and the allocative methodology
  • spread of school hours
  • workload management and work/life balance
  • permanency
  • resourcing
  • specialist services
  • school councils
  • transfer system
  • local consultative committees.

Matters pertaining to teacher professionalism, beginning teacher conditions and the access of temporary teachers to professional development could also be under threat.

These provisions have been fought for in EB campaigns since 1997 and have withstood the test of time.  They have been responsive to the changing needs of schools and teachers while providing members in the most precarious forms of employment some security.  It is important that these conditions continue to prevail if we are going to retain a high quality education system in this state.

Kate Ruttiman
Deputy General Secretary

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 4, 1 June 2012, p10