Why we must take industrial action over salaries and workloads

Politicians and public servants love to talk about “evidence-based policy making”.

They trot out the phrase to accompany all sorts of policy pronouncements, as if just saying it provides a guarantee they are doing the right thing.

It is even used when all the evidence points in the opposite direction to the plan they are announcing or the decision they have made.

This is precisely the situation we are in when it comes to the workload and salaries of teachers and principals, and the statewide staffing crisis.

First, we had the independent Gallop inquiry, in February this year, warn the government that the workloads of teachers had reached such a point that without additional release time “much of the quality of practice espoused in government policy documents is simply not attainable in the context of the changing complexities of the educational endeavour”.

The inquiry found teachers’ salaries did not reflect their skills and responsibilities and “the salary levels in place and projected for the next three to five years are dangerous for the public standing of the profession, and for the quality of education available to the students of the state’s public schools.”

Then we discovered troves of secret Department of Education documents saying the same things – unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries were leading to growing shortages. A briefing in August last year said: “The salary ceiling and perceptions regarding career trajectory may be impeding choices to become a teacher. The demands and expectations on teachers are increasing, while the current rewards, pathways and learning opportunities are not providing enough incentive.”

The documents warned NSW could run out of teachers in five years due to plummeting graduate numbers, rising enrolments and a rapidly ageing workforce.

But instead of recognising the urgent need to significantly lift salaries, the Government is trying to lock in the 2.5 per cent wages cap that has contributed so much to the decline in teachers’ salaries compared to other professions.

Instead of recognising teachers’ workloads are unsustainable, turning people off teaching and limiting what can be done for students, they are refusing to increase your release time. The current entitlements haven’t changed for primary teachers since the 1980s and for secondary teachers since the 1950s.

Think of how much the demands on teachers have changed in the past four years, let alone the past 40 years.

We must make a stand

When governments ignore the facts, the only option is to act. That is why we have taken the decision to hold a 24 hour strike on Tuesday 7 December.

If we don’t act now workloads will continue to rise and salaries will continue to fall relative to other professions.

The hopes you have of a better work-life balance and a salary that reflects what you know and what you give in your efforts every day will be lost.

The chance to improve your lessons and improve your practice through collaboration with your colleagues will be lost.

Instead of teaching being the dream job of high achieving young people, it will be something to be avoided.

This is about every teacher, in every classroom across NSW. It is also about every student.

We cannot have a situation where kids are missing out due to a lack of teachers. If we don’t fix the shortages, how many more children will be left in the playground with minimal supervision or jammed in the back of your merged class because teachers are nowhere to be found?

How many more teachers will be asked to teach a subject they didn’t specialise in?

Let’s stand together as one on December 7.

We need to do this for each other, for our students and to open the door to all those talented young people out there who we need to be the teachers of tomorrow.