Numbers count when it comes to action

Union members’ ongoing commitment to Federation’s campaign for additional release from face-to-face teaching for infants and primary schools was rewarded in 1983.

Delegates to Annual Conference in December 1983 gave a 10-minute standing ovation in response to news that release from face-to-face teaching for infants and primary teachers would be doubled to two hours per week.

Augusta Monro, a K-2 teacher at the time, said that prior to the win it was a problem keeping up with marking and she did all of her programming after hours at home.

Federation’s proposal was that class teachers would have the time off to do what they need to do, that is plan, mark, hold interviews, meetings etc. and would not be directed by the principal or supervisor as to what the teacher would do at the time.

“There were many of my colleagues who were all for it so it gave me and them support to take strike action,” Augusta said. “I was willing to break the rules because of Federation’s power and the need to support what was a necessary innovation for primary school teachers.

“It is only powerful if we all act together. It was vital then to turn up in numbers and it still is. People cannot expect the union to support them unless they support the union. If they want something, they must stand up for themselves, that is strike and if necessary, march.

“The union is all the members not just the Executive and State Council making the decisions. Strikes allow them to … show they desperately need whatever it is we are campaigning for.”

The seed for the release from face-to-face campaign was sown in February 1978 when more than 300 infants and primary members in three Central Coast associations voted to take minimal supervision action.

By June 1978, 20,000 members across 800 schools had taken similar action.

The Quality Education campaign and strike on 26 September 1978 had release from face-to-face teaching as a core topic.

In November 1978 Premier Neville Wran said: “face-to-face relief will remain high on the government’s priorities to be given effect as soon as the financial capacity of the state permits.”

The turnout for a mass meeting at the Regent Theatre in November 1980 demonstrated the continued magnitude of support for the improvement in working conditions.

The NSW Industrial Commission refused to hear Federation’s work value salaries case until the union halted all staffing action. Federation responded to the Commission’s 1981 salaries and staffing judgment with three days of strike action in January and February 1981, with relief from face-to-face teaching a key issue.

Infants and primary teachers showed their continued engagement with the campaign when they went on strike in August and October 1983 to show their continued commitment to gaining relief. Their strikes were endorsed by the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations and the NSW Federation of School Community Organisations.

Meetings and negotiations with the Premier led to the breakthrough on relief.

In a sign that governments often need to be held to account on their promises, in 1987 less than 50 per cent of infants and primary teachers were receiving their release from face-to-face entitlement, so the campaign resumed. In August 1987 Premier Barrie Unsworth agreed to fund the additional 820 teachers to fully realise Labor’s promise and all relevant teachers received their entitlement by term 1, 1988.

In regard to the current ask for additional release time, Augusta, now a Federation Life Member, said it makes her angry and frustrated that yet again teachers are having to fight for something that has been shown to be beneficial for their work and to their students. “These days teaching is even more about planning and data collection,” Augusta said. “Teachers spend even more time with parents and counselling students as well as behaviour management. This can only be done if they have adequate time to do so. Those issues need to be resolved. If I was still teaching, I would definitely take action if required as this is an important issue.”