Editorial: The QTU response to the pay freeze/deferral
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 5, 10 July 2020, page no.5
The pay deferral is now in place, legislated in mid-June. It is a deferral rather than a freeze, which would simply abolish a pay increase. The 1 July 2020 increase will now be paid on 1 July 2021, and the 1 July 2021 increase on 1 January 2022.
Salaries will finish the same at the end of the enterprise bargaining agreements – 30 June 2022 for schools and 30 June 2023 for TAFE.
But for 18 months during those agreements, teachers and principals will be paid at least 2.5 per cent less than agreed. In schools alone, this represents more than $100 million less in employee pockets. We are not talking about pocket change.
The QTU member ballot endorsing a response to the freeze proposes the following three questions.
To oppose or support the deferral?
The QTU has opposed a freeze/deferral throughout, but some members have a different view.
There are four arguments against the deferral of salaries.
You don’t need to be told it is unfair that frontline workers, whose presence at schools was crucial and who went from classroom to remote learning and back in weeks, should have their pay docked. You worked harder than ever but are to be paid less. That is wrong.
You don’t need to be told that the government breaking its deal with you and the Union is wrong. And that to do so by legislating is particularly heinous. You never got a chance to have a say.
What about the “we’re all in this together” argument in support of a deferral?
When homes were lost in the bushfires last summer, we didn’t burn down our houses in solidarity. We gave from our good fortune to those in need. I think the analogy holds in this economic recession.
The fourth argument against the pay deferral is that it is bad economics.
You do not stimulate the economy and promote economic recovery in a recession by cutting government spending or employee pay rises. The pay deferral is $100 million out of circulation in an economy dependent on domestic expenditure since the borders were shut. If you had the extra money to spend, it would help stop more business closures and mean fewer jobs or fewer hours lost.
And it’s not about balancing budgets. In times like these, a responsible government goes into deficit, as this government is, to provide stimulus to the economy. That is the role of a government that cares about people rather than money.
To strike or not?
There is no more serious breach by an employer than breaking an agreement with its employees and the Union. If ever there was justification for teachers and principals to take strike action, this is most clearly it.
A strike would likely be unprotected industrial action, because it occurs during the life of the broken agreement. That’s OK. We’ve taken unprotected action before on important issues.
It won’t be like the strike routine that we have had in the past because of the COVID-19 restrictions. But that too is OK. We have a plan about how to deal with physical distancing.
A strike won’t change the pay deferral. A strike will be an act of public protest that will make any government in the future at least think twice before it does anything like this. Teachers strike but rarely. It is a big deal when they do.
We will likely be on our own. Other unions have either agreed with the deferral or don’t have a capacity to act as we can.
Is it a good time to strike with people losing jobs? Employees have taken strike action during wars and depressions before to defend their rights. There will be sympathy, but we have no idea how much.
And strike action will mean that we will forfeit another $3 million or so in pay – a somewhat ironic way to protest the loss of $100 million. But it will be about standing against the pay deferral action.
To work ban or not?
Whether or not you oppose the pay deferral or the strike; you should support the work bans.
The sustainable reduction of workload is the Union’s number one priority.
If the government can break the agreement, its teachers and principals can surely accelerate the EB process of reducing workload by banning work.
The list of work bans is still being compiled. One criterion is for bans that have no or no real impact on student learning.
The Union is looking at banning this work forever. We are looking at changes that should be permanent.
And we are looking to provide workload relief wherever people work.
The work bans are intended to have immediate benefit for teachers and principals.
Meetings and ballots
The QTU will be conducting a series of Zoom meetings for members in the first week of Term 3. Each financial member working in schools or TAFE will receive an individual electronic ballot in Week 2. The ballot will close on 24 July.