Public sector unions need to unite against Baillieu
On June 12 more than 25,000 Victorian teachers stopped work as part of their ongoing negotiations with the Baillieu Liberal Government. 11,000 striking teachers attended the meeting and march in Melbourne, an enthusiastic show of defiance against the State Government’s attacks on teachers and public education.
Victorian teachers work incredibly long hours and are the lowest paid in the country. More than half of young teachers in the state are now dependent on short-term contracts. This means that job security and teaching to the highest standards are not possible.
The demands of the Australian Education Union (AEU) include a 30% pay rise over three years, maximum class sizes of 20 students and a reduction in the number of short-term contracts.
In opposition to these just demands the government is proposing a pay rise of a measly 2.5%, effectively a pay cut! On top of this the Government want to introduce ‘merit-based’ pay. This would mean that 10% of teachers would get a 10% bonus, 20% would get a 6% bonus, 40% would get a 1.4% bonus, and the remaining 30% would miss out entirely. Taking inflation into account, this means that 70% of Victorian teachers would be effectively getting less than they do now!
Alongside refusing decent pay rises to teachers, Baillieu has unleashed a string of other attacks on the public sector in Victoria. From education alone his government has so far cut $48 million from Victorian Certificate of Advanced Learning courses, $19 million from the school start bonus and the education maintenance allowance and a further $300 million from Technical And Further Education.
At the stop work meeting the AEU leadership warned members to prepare for long and protracted negotiations. But in the face of attacks like these it is not appropriate to let the government drag negotiations out. It took almost a year in negotiations before any industrial action was called. Teachers want a strong, quick and victorious campaign. This can only be achieved by stepping up the struggle.
Also, unlike in previous pay negotiations, demands for permanent jobs and reduced class sizes should not be allowed to fall off the agenda. Conditions are just as important as pay increases and teachers are fed up with not being afforded the necessities to do their job properly. The AEU needs to reject any ‘productivity gains’ being attached to pay increases. Teachers can’t work any harder!
What is needed is a united campaign of all the public sector unions against Baillieu’s attacks on jobs, wages and public services. Even outside the public sector there are unions in conflict with Baillieu, like the construction union. A united struggle with all workers under attack would put teachers in a position to win all of their demands.
In June the Victorian Division of the National Tertiary Education Union passed a resolution that called on the Victorian Trades Hall to urgently organise such a campaign. It correctly stated that “waiting until the next election is no solution, especially given that both the major parties support budget cuts in some form.”
This point rings true given that it was the ALP that kick-started Victorian school closures in the 1980s. It was John Brumby who oversaw the closure of 40 schools and the merger of another 144 (a net loss of about 80 schools) during his term in office.
During the 12 years of the previous ALP government the number of teachers on temporary contracts did not go down a single percentage point! The differences between the ALP and the Liberals are more about style than substance when it comes to their approach to public education.
We urge members of the AEU, and of other public sector unions, to demand that the campaign against the Baillieu government be stepped up. Waiting for a Labor government will not guarantee any fundamental changes. Public sector workers should not be asked to make sacrifices for Baillieu’s budget decisions.
It was big business and an out of control private sector that created the current economic conditions being used as an excuse to attack the public sector. At the end of the day Baillieu’s budget favours big business and the private sector. It should be them, not teachers, students and other workers, who are forced to pay for it.
By Chris Dite
The next AEU stop work action is planned for Wednesday September 5. We urge all of our supporters to attend.