QTU President Kevin Bates 300pxFrom the President :

Lamenting a broken promise

by Kevin Bates, 18 June 2020

Over the past 26 years, I have been a part of the negotiation of nine school and ten TAFE enterprise bargaining agreements. Those agreements are intended to determine and improve the salaries and working conditions of a group of employees for an agreed period, providing certainty for employees and employers alike.

Some of those negotiations can only be described as tortuous. Government and employer representatives engaged in despicable behaviour to avoid dealing with the concerns of workers in schools and TAFE. Long manufactured delays, running into months and years in some cases, held up gains before agreement was reached. Many attempts by the government as the employer to drastically diminish the accrued working conditions of teachers, principals and TAFE educators have been thwarted by collective action by QTU members. 

On other occasions, an agreement was reached with minimal angst. In both cases, circumstances such as the state of the economy, the state of the budget, the strength of the government, the proximity to an election and the energy of QTU members based on the time of the year all impact on the negotiations and the outcomes achieved.

The total impact of 26 years of enterprise bargaining is often debated. What I know is that the base salary of a teacher is 400 per cent of what it was when I started teaching, we have smaller classes, better workplace consultation and significant improvements in non-contact time, personal leave and other working conditions. Workload has also increased dramatically, which is why workload management and reduction strategies have been at the core of both the past two enterprise bargaining rounds.

All these things might have been achieved without enterprise bargaining, but only with even greater disputation. Employers don’t deliver more to workers just because they choose to, they must be compelled to do so by use of the established systems of industrial and political campaigning. 

Yesterday, the Queensland Labor government pushed legislation through the Parliament to enshrine a much talked about wage freeze. The facts are that, under the legislation, teachers, principals and TAFE educators will be denied the 2.5 per cent wage increase due and payable on 1 July 2020. This same outcome will apply to many other public servants but with differing degrees of impact because of the variability in operational arrangements in the agreements applying to each government department.

For teachers, principals and TAFE educators, the true impact of this government legislation is a denial of 2.5 per cent of salary for a period of 18 months – the salary increase will not be recouped until 1 January 2022. The QTU has sought specific figures from government on how much this will cost QTU members, but we have had no response. Our estimates are that of the $500 million the government will take from the pockets of teachers, principals, TAFE educators, cleaners, nurses, doctors, police, firefighters, paramedics and other public servants, $100 million will come from QTU members.

Legal challenges in New South Wales based around similar legislative action by a Liberal government in 2012 went as far as the High Court and failed to limit the capacity of governments to make laws to override legally binding industrial instruments. Just to be clear, the state government has the power to do what it has done. The question remains however, should they have done what they have done.

The situation is not without capacity for remediation. The government has used its power to withhold a salary increase from frontline workers they relied upon throughout the COVID-19 crisis, who they lauded as essential to the binding together of the very fabric of our community and economy. 

Workers have power too. You will soon have the opportunity to cast your vote in a ballot on the questions of whether you support the government’s actions in denying your agreed wage increase, what action you are willing to take to call the government to account and, if necessary, to take action to unilaterally reduce unsustainable teacher and principal workload in the way that was clearly intended through the terms of EB9 in schools and EB10 in TAFE.

The 48,000 members of the Queensland Teachers’ Union are proud professional educators who have a strong sense of fairness – we know when something is morally wrong.

Kevin Bates

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