Teachers jam Sydney CBD as unified strike covers state

More than 20,000 teachers from NSW public and Catholic schools marched on NSW Parliament this morning to protest wages, workloads and staff shortages in a united front not seen for 26 years.

The massed ranks of the NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union (IEU) NSW/ACT Branch crammed the length of Sydney’s Macquarie Street, where Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos revealed the latest figures in the worsening teacher shortage.

From Broken Hill and Bourke to Walgett and Wagga Wagga — with huge turnouts in Newcastle and Wollongong — members from both unions rallied in unprecedented numbers in their respective colours (red for Federation and yellow for IEU) to let the Perrottet Government and local MPs hear their message.

Just last night, shocking new Government figures were released to the Parliament,” Mr Gavrielatos told the marchers, who were watched by MPs from the balcony of Parliament House.

They show in the past 18 months schools have had to merge classes or give students only minimal supervision on thousands of occasions because of the teacher shortages. This is even after teachers picked up extra lessons and came in sick.”

The experience has been mirrored for teachers in Catholic schools. IEU NSW/ACT Branch President Christine Wilkinson told the rally: Our Catholic systemic system is broken, teachers are broken.”

The last time public and Catholic school teachers marched together was in April 1996 after their real wages had fallen by a quarter over 20 years and state spending on education had dropped 20 per cent.

Mr Gavrielatos said today the latest figures on the teacher shortage from Parliament reveal:

  • this year alone, Mudgee High School students have been provided only minimal supervision or placed in merged classes almost 2000 times, and at Canobolas Rural Technology High School in Orange more than 1500 times
  • in the past 18 months at Dubbo College’s Delroy campus, students have been put in merged classes or provided only minimal supervision more than 2000 times.

Mr Gavrielatos said the figures were only the tip of the iceberg. Members report at each of these schools that the numbers are actually far higher,” he told the crowd.

Our students are relying on us to secure the changes needed to stop the teacher shortages. We cannot let them down. We all know the teacher shortage crisis cannot be fixed without fixing the salaries and workload problem.

Unsustainable workloads are the biggest threat to the future of our profession.

Every day we are hearing stories from teachers who feel like they are being forced to choose between their health and their career. You should be able to be a teacher without it taking over your life.”

Secretary of the IEU Mark Northam told the massed members: It’s time to fix this mess.

These teacher rallies today show the profession is united. We’re united as a profession and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure teachers, support staff and the students who are, importantly, entrusted to our care, are given a fair deal and a fair go.”

Public primary school teacher Gabriella McGrath spoke to the crowd about the reality” she faces today in a career she knew was going to be challenging when she started in 2018.

I know I speak for so many of you when I say that the admin load regularly feels overwhelming,” Ms McGrath said. Often, we feel like administrators who get to spend just a few lucky hours with kids each day.

Even in my four short years teaching I see that the passion we all have as young teachers is being slowly taken away from us, not because we have lost interest, but because we have a Premier and Minister who just don’t seem to care.”

Mr Gavrielatos signalled to Premier Dominic Perrottet Federation’s preparedness for serious negotiations for an agreement to deliver what teachers and schools need.

We are ready to negotiate today and every day,” he said. But he also needs to know we will keep campaigning until election day next March if we have to.

Too much is at stake for us not to continue for our profession, for our students and for their future.”

The IEU’s Ms Wilkinson, who teaches at St Joseph’s Catholic College, East Gosford, revealed parallels for teachers in the Catholic and public systems.

[Teachers are] drowning in a sea of ever-increasing workloads, administrative tasks including data collection, new computer systems, teacher accreditation demands, reporting and marking, just to name a few things that are eating into valuable teachers’ time.

The teacher shortage is placing enormous pressure and stress on teachers who are being asked to take extra lessons on a daily basis, sometimes out of their subject and to babysit students in overcrowded classrooms.

If the Government and the Catholics ignore this problem the education system faces huge problems. Work-life balance has long gone and the wellbeing of teachers does not seem to matter anymore. Young graduates do not consider teaching as a viable option when the pay is not attractive and the conditions need improving.”