QUEENSLAND TEACHERS are set to vote for 24-hour strikes from the beginning of May. Well-attended mass meetings voted overwhelmingly to hold a publicity and industrial campaign to win their claim for wage parity with teachers in other states. Queensland teachers are currently the lowest paid on the mainland.
While there has been no formal proposal from the Queensland Labor government, it is expected that teachers will be offered nothing more than that promised to other public sector workers—4.5 per cent for the first year and 4 per cent for each of the two years after that.
But teachers are looking for a pay rise well above 4.5 per cent. Such a pay rise would still leave a senior Queensland teacher more than $6000 annually behind their equivalent in NSW.
A ballot for strike action is being held the week after the Easter break, in time for action when the bargaining period begins in May.
The campaign explicitly rejects any idea that teachers should accept wage restraint to help the state’s financial bottom line. Thousands of teachers leave the profession each year to take up better-paid jobs in other fields.
Wages are falling further behind the cost of living. Mortgages now average about ten times a teacher’s salary compared to the 1980s when mortgages were just three times the salary level.
As the QTU newsletter puts it: it is not a matter of what the government can afford but whether it can afford not to pay teachers a decent wage. Poverty wages won’t help teaching and they don’t help the economy.
The union also argues that, with the federal government pushing a national curriculum, national register and national testing, federal government funding should help give teachers “national pay”.
Public sector pay cap
The teachers’ campaign may be the opening shots of a public sector-wide fight against the Queensland government. Union campaign action in the months leading up to the state election broke the 3.25 per cent pay cap that the government was trying to force onto public sector workers.
Now media reports suggest that Treasury wants the government to renege on its pre-election promise and impose a public sector wage freeze and suspend the 17 per cent leave loading. The state Budget will be handed down on June 16. Public sector unions have threatened a campaign of strikes “from July to Christmas” if the government breaks its promise.