Just a few weeks ago, the state’s public sector teachers went on strike, and now thousands of Catholic school teachers are threatening to take similar action. For a whole day on May 27, more than 17,000 teachers and support employees from more than 500 Catholic diocesan schools in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory agreed to conduct protected strike action.
Staff shortages at Catholic schools are exacerbated by a combination of rising workloads and the pandemic, according to Mark Northam, IEU branch secretary for Australia.
“We don’t take it lightly,” he stated, stressing that “protected industrial action” is a serious matter. “Teachers and support staff across both the government and non-government sectors are dedicated professionals pushed to breaking point.” “Schools have been running on goodwill, but it is rapidly evaporating.”
NSW government school teachers staged a 24-hour walkout earlier this month to seek a salary hike over the government’s stipulated 2.5 percent public sector wage ceiling, their second strike in six months.
The union argues that this is a shortsighted strategy that has resulted in the present teacher shortage. Catholic employers have followed the NSW government’s example and capped wage increases to 2.04% a year.
“Teachers are leaving the profession, and graduates are not entering it,” Northam said.
Currently, the Independent Education Union is in negotiations with the 11 Catholic dioceses in the state, asking for a 10 to 15 percent wage hike over two years, fewer paperwork, and more planning time for its members.
Chris Wilkinson, president of the union’s NSW/ACT division, said teachers were worn out and had nothing more to contribute.
In his words, “We urge employers to listen to teachers and support staff, hear our voices, and pay us what we deserve”.
There will be protests all around New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, notably at Sydney Town Hall.
It was a “regrettable” choice to strike, according to Ross Fox, a spokesman for Catholic employers and the head of Canberra Goulburn Catholic Education. “Catholic Education strongly supports teachers and general staff receiving a meaningful pay increase and improved benefits for the important job they do,” he said. “We’ve responded to all of the union’s claims and offered a range of significant benefits for staff, including a guarantee to at least match any pay increase provided to public school teachers. “We support and value our staff and remain committed to bargaining in good faith.”