The collective spirit of our union will see us through the challenges of 2022

I would like to start by extending a warm welcome to all teachers who are beginning their careers. Like our colleagues who started in 2020 and 2021, you are commencing your career in a period of great uncertainty and upheaval.

Notwithstanding the challenges we face, teaching remains the noblest of all occupations. As a public school teacher, you have joined a profession that serves to strengthen the social, economic, and cultural fabric of our nation like no other.

It’s important to remember that you are not alone. Your greatest professional and industrial comfort and security lies in the collective spirit of our union.

This is not the start to the new year that anyone had hoped for

I know that many of you are beginning this year far less refreshed than you would prefer. At the very time that you were hoping to switch off and recharge, putting some distance between yourselves and what was an exhausting year, the escalation of the COVID crisis, courtesy of the Omicron strain, has affected us all, as we could only think about the challenges that lay ahead.

I also want to acknowledge that many of you have spent the holiday period either sick in isolation or caring for friends and family members.

By now, you would all be familiar with the risk mitigation strategies announced by the NSW Government.

Let’s be clear, the Omicron strain presents a risk everywhere. Throughout January, Federation made representations seeking a more robust application of risk mitigation strategies, including the use of rapid antigen tests, masks and improvements to ventilation, to make our schools as safe as they can be.

While the Government and the Department say that their settings are consistent with “health advice”, we maintain that one can never overcompensate when trying to minimise risk, hence our criticism with respect to mask quality and mask-wearing requirements, along with the need to improve ventilation in schools.

We will be closely monitoring the impact of the Government’s risk mitigation strategies with a view to seeking urgent adjustments, should they be necessary, to ensure the greatest amount of protection can be offered to our students and staff.

The Government and the Department would also be well served by giving meaningful upfront acknowledgement of your efforts, and the fact that there is no other industry that requires one to go to work in restricted, often poorly ventilated spaces (aka classrooms) with up to 30 people, while navigating a worksite crammed with hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of people.

The COVID blog on our website will continue to be updated with relevant information and advice as it becomes available.

Salaries and conditions

The Omicron wave of the pandemic has placed us in a much different position than that we envisaged during the historic action that took place at the end of last year, culminating in the 7 December industrial action.

The circumstances require us to review our strategies aimed at achieving our policy goals to address unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive pay.

While the timing of some of our actions may change, we will deploy all options available to us, including political, industrial and media – in all its forms – as necessary.

The Government and the Department remain condemned for continuing to pursue through various legal manoeuvres, courtesy of an Industrial Relations Act stacked against us, a new three-year Award that seeks to impose a 2.04 per cent salary cap with no change to the crippling working conditions experienced by the teaching profession.

Apart from the disrespect and dishonesty inherent in these actions – noting their actions are contrary to their own advice contained in hundreds of pages of secret internal briefings – pursuing with glee their 2.04 per cent salary cap for a further three years when inflation is running at 3.5 per cent further exposes the contempt in which the profession is held.

Consistent with the determination expressed by members across NSW on 7 December, the union is steadfast in its commitment to the More Than Thanks campaign.

I will have more to say about this and what to expect in 2022 at a now-rescheduled all-member broadcast that will take place on 11 February at 8:15am.

State by-elections 12 February

We will be paying very close attention to the four by-elections that will take place in the seats of Bega, Monaro, Strathfield and Willoughby on 12 February.

We have written to candidates in each of the four electorates and we will be providing members who live in these seats with an analysis of where the candidates and their parties stand on several key issues, including the teacher shortage and its cause, unsustainable workloads, and uncompetitive pay.

These by-elections serve as an opportunity to send the Perrottet Government a strong message about its performance in education.

Federal election imminent

Finally, at a national level, with a federal election imminent we must also turn our attention to the damage inflicted on public education, our schools and TAFE colleges at the hands of the Morrison Government.

While the Morrison Government continues to deny public schools the funding our students need and deserve, Labor recently announced a commitment to achieving 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) for public schools. Labor has also announced a capital works investment for public schools and has allocated funding in its education policy for mental health initiatives and additional school counsellors.

The Greens have announced a policy that would deliver $49 billion over the next 10 years to fully fund public schools. Their policy announcement further provides $400 million a year to build safe and modern teaching and learning facilities for students and teachers, as well as a commitment to make schools sustainable and accessible through a $5 billion Green Education Infrastructure Fund.

Last year, our Annual Conference called on Senior Officers, Executive and State Council to develop a campaign plan aimed at defeating the Morrison Government and its toxic anti-public education agenda. These plans are underway.