If you don’t try, you never even have a chance

“We were all optimistic about getting real improvements in our salaries and everyone was on board and worked creatively together,” said Narooma Teachers Association President Christa Mood, recalling the 2002 Inquiry into the Provision of Public Education in NSW.

“It was a very exciting time because it was such a revolutionary idea to me to have an inquiry into the value of teachers’ work.”

Christa helped prepare school and association submissions for the inquiry, chaired by Tony Vinson.

“It was amazing to be part of such big events,” she said. “I remember meeting Mr Vinson, who was calm, kind and considered. He would really listen to what you had to say. It was a privilege to have met him.”

The Vinson inquiry’s findings (including a 5 per cent wages catch up) informed the 2003/04 salaries campaign, which included a salaries dispute in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission and strike action.

A 24-hour stoppage and Sydney and regional rallies were held six days after the case in the IRC began. More than 10,000 teachers marched on NSW Parliament in a massive display of anger over the failure of the government to improve its salaries offer or guarantee full Treasury funding for the IRC ruling.

The government’s argument against the Commission awarding more than 6 per cent over two years was capacity to pay. Federation’s claim was for 25 per cent over three Budgets.

Over three months, 48 members gave evidence about work value changes since the Industrial Relations Commission’s previous assessment of the value of teachers work, some 20 years earlier.

Further strikes and rallies were held on 27 May and 2 June, 2004, in response to the Government’s application to reopen the IRC case at a time when the decision in the salaries case was imminent.

Christa recalls a sense of strength and solidarity. “We felt like we could make a difference,” she said.

Regarding her activism during the period, Christa said: “Not participating was never an option for me. “I’ve never wanted to feel powerless. I wanted to be part of the solution not the problem, so it just felt better to stand up and be counted. That’s the benefit of being active within a powerful organisation like the NSWTF.”

Her experiences of the time enforced in her that direct action can make a difference. “You might not always get everything you ask for but it helps the negotiation and a compromise is always reached,” she said. “I learnt that if you don’t try you never even have a chance.

“It feels good, it feels safe, it feels positive and it feels productive being an active member of the union. You feel strong and something bigger than yourself.”

Members should become active participants in the activities of their union, Christa believes.

“I hear many people complain about how tired they are and how hard we are all working but they say they don’t have time to be active within the union … this thinking changes nothing,” she said.

“If we are all expecting others to do something then nothing will get done. We all have to be part of this, bring a friend and encourage others. Share the load and work together to stop the ever-increasing workload without proper increase in pay. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. So get up, get active and stand up for your rights.”

In 2011, the NSW Government changed the Industrial Relations Act, denying the public sector the ability to pursue salary increases based on work value in the IRC.

“The restrictions are an abomination,” Christa said. “Never in my lifetime did I expect such an attack on our industrial rights. I believe every worker has the right to withhold their labour if pay and working conditions are attacked.”