In late April the Australian Education Union (AEU) announced a supposed ‘breakthrough’ in the teachers’ pay dispute which has been dragging on in Victoria for the last 2 years. To much fanfare they claimed that teachers, principals and education support staff would receive a pay increase between 16% – 20% over 3 years.
These figures were presented in newspapers like The Age as a win for teachers. Headlines like ‘Teachers win big pay deal’ were common on the day after the announcement. At first glance many thought this was a victory as the figures exceeded the 12.5% the union had been asking for.
But as expected, all that glitters is not gold. When AEU members looked more closely at the details of the proposed agreement it was clear that the union leaders had fudged the figures and sold out their members yet again.
The Napthine Liberal government announced pay increase figures which were at odds with those released by the union. The government claimed the rises consecutively totalled 3%, 2.75% and 2.75% over the three year deal.
In addition the Minister for Teaching told the media and Parliament that progression through each of the salary levels would no longer be automatic. “People will need to deserve their promotion to the next salary level” he said. The Napthine government’s version is consistent with its hardline wages policy that any annual increases above 2.5% must be offset by productivity savings.
In fact, the wage rises for education support staff – included in a joint agreement for the first time – average out to less than 2.5% per year!
While the government had previously said that ‘performance pay’ had been taken off the negotiating table, it appears that the proposed agreement opens the way to a more onerous performance review regime. This amounts to performance pay through the back door.
There is also anger that the union leaders caved in on conditions that were part of the log of claims such as a 50% reduction in temporary contracts and maximum class sizes of 20.
Under the proposed agreement teachers who are declared ”in excess” – if a school has declining enrolments for example, or a subject is no longer offered – will no longer be given the same priority when applying for jobs at other schools. This means far from improving job security for teachers it will be further undermined.
Teachers and education support staff have not been fooled by the union leader’s misleading claims. In the days after the announcement the union leaders were facing a huge backlash from members who warn they will vote against the pay deal.
In the absence of proper communication from the union leaders to the membership, teachers and education support staff have taken to Facebook and Twitter to complain about the deceptive deal, as well as to question the AEU about its contents.
It took the union a week after the announcement of the deal for the proposed agreement to be circulated to members.
Teachers and education support staff deserve a whole lot more than the AEU leaders are suggesting we accept. The proposed agreement not only amounts to a pay cut in real terms but it continues the process of undermining our working conditions.
If a proper industrial strategy was adhered to from the beginning of this dispute, we would be in a much better position today. Teachers in the Socialist Party are urging members to vote against this agreement and to demand another mass meeting so that we can discuss how to increase pressure on the government and force them to accept our just demands in full.
The broader lesson from this dispute is that the current union leaders are totally unfit to represent us. The best way to ensure that decent pay and improved conditions are won in the future will be to replace the current leadership with people who have the determination to fight – just as the members do.
By Simone Howard