NSW teachers were gearing up for two-hour stop work meetings on November 2 as Solidarity went to press. The meetings are to map out a strategy to win our recently lodged wage clam. The next step is likely to be a 24-hour strike and rally outside NSW parliament later in the month.
Our entirely legitimate claim for 5 per cent a year over three years (plus 1 per cent superannuation and recognition of all temporary and casual work for progression up the salary scale) will be the first major challenge to the O’Farrell government’s 2.5 per cent pay cap.
Far from signalling a willingness to negotiate with the NSW Teachers Federation, the O’Farrell government (supported by the Shooters Party and Fred Nile) has upped the ante with an attack on TAFE. In October they introduced legislation to transfer NSW TAFE teachers over to the federal FairWork Australia industrial framework, a significantly worse arrangement than the previous laws.
It mirrors the former Labor government’s attempt during our last salary settlement to separate the pay and conditions of TAFE teachers from school teachers.
There’s a risk that TAFE teachers will be discouraged from participating in our upcoming industrial action, because under FairWork both unions and individuals can face large fines for doing so.
The scale of the attack is such that the only way to confront it is head on. The more teachers we have taking action, the less likely fines will be. We can build on the fighting spirit that was on display at the September 8 union rally, where a huge number of the 35,000 in attendance were teachers. The Teachers Federation should feel confident to encourage TAFE workers to join us.
O’Farrell’s attacks on TAFE dovetail with Gillard’s plans to deepen competitive tendering in vocational education, pitting institutions against one another. We’ve seen what such privatisation does to quality provision in areas like the Adult Migrant English Program.
At the national level, the Australian Education Union has called a national day of action on November 15 around the need for greater investment in public school.
The Gonski Review into education funding is finalising its report and recommendations in December. We’ll need to do more than send messages to the review panel and lobby federal MPs, which is the actions currently on the table.
The Activist Teachers Network intends to call an after school protest to bring these issues together. Getting organised in our fight against O’Farrell here in NSW is crucial. If we win we can boost the confidence of other workers across the sector to defeat the pay cap, the TAFE workers to beat back the new legislation and of teachers across the country in their battles.