Victorian teachers fight neo-liberal pay limit

Victorian teachers are fighting to break the Brumby Government’s pay cap of 3.25 per cent (below the current inflation rate). Following the state-wide Australian Education Union (AEU) strike on February 14, which saw 25,000 teachers demonstrate, Victorian public school teachers are keeping up the momentum with a series of regional half-day strikes marked by angry local rallies.

The fight has been joined by teachers from Catholic schools, who are on pay parity with the public sector. Four thousand joined a Victorian Independent Education Union (VIEU) stop work and march on March 7. Some 5200 teachers have joined the AEU since the first strike last November. Over 1000 have joined the VIEU.

The AEU is demanding 10 per cent pay rises a year over three years, maximum class sizes of 20, increased teacher planning time and a reduction in the number of contract positions. Currently, Victorian teachers are the country’s lowest paid and suffer high levels of short-term employment contracts.

The hardline approach of the Brumby Government since our agreement expired last August is pushing our officials to take an increasingly stronger stand.

At the same time the rising anger among classroom teachers has powered the struggle from below. Most schools have active union branch structures and delegates who carry arguments for action into staffrooms. The union has encouraged everyone to meet in groups to attend the mass meetings and protests-building a strong sense of unity. They have produced thousands of red t-shirts and ponchos that have created a powerful visual impact on our marches. The Brumby Government has refused to improve the pay offer unless there are “productivity cost offsets” measurable in “dollar for dollar savings”. This would mean slashing teacher numbers or increasing class sizes.

In a further neo-liberal attack, the Victorian Government recently announced that ten new schools in fast growing outer suburbs will be built and maintained by private companies under so called Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

Tender documents released to interested businesses flagged that the scheme could be extended to refurbish existing schools. The AEU should clearly reject these proposals and argue for public borrowing and investment to build quality schools and pay decent wages.

Every day of action through this struggle has been met with increased levels of public support. But Brumby and Pike are cynically hoping to “ride out” any action for as long as possible.

The experience of Victorian nurses is instructive. Last year they imposed work bans and closed beds. Within days the government ignored its’ own pay limit and granted the nurses pay claim.

Our rolling stoppages continue until April 23. If there is still no progress then, we will need to consider stepping up the action further. Serious work bans and extending stoppages to close schools longer than one day would create a crisis that even the most cynical politician could not ignore.

By standing together and stepping up the action we can win.

By Hamish McPherson


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