For everyone From your president: Ready for action

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace

Having a break over the summer holidays always provides time to reflect on the previous year’s work, the important wins we’ve had and the challenges ahead in 2024.

I spent time in January in my hometown in country Victoria, where I was educated in the local public schools. While there, I read a lot of newspaper articles about the rising cost of private education, mostly through fee increases, despite these schools continuing to receive millions of dollars in government funding. It gave me pause to think about the excellent public education I received, albeit in a school with limited resources and significant teacher shortages, with gaps then filled by new teachers and internationals from Canada and America. The more things change, the more they stay the same! 

The ongoing overfunding of private schools is outrageous, with all indicators demonstrating the widening inequity in Australia’s education system. The election of the Albanese government and re-election of a state Labor government seemed like the perfect opportunity to turn this situation around, with both pledging to fully fund public schools. Instead, we’ve had endless platitudes from our political leaders about developing a “path” to 100% funding, with no timeline attached for delivering on this promise. 

It is abhorrent that the Albanese and Allan governments would continue to deny current and future students the opportunities that would accompany full funding.

Resources delayed are resources denied. Those who completed their education in public schools over the past decade or so have been denied the benefits of those resources – their opportunities are already lost. It is abhorrent that the Albanese and Allan governments would continue to deny current and future students the opportunities that would accompany full funding ($1,800 extra per student each year), while financing private schools at rates well above the minimum standard.

Our For Every Child funding campaign has put the spotlight on this inequity, with media reports making the link between funding and workforce shortages. So, it was somewhat surprising to hear Victoria’s new education minister and deputy premier Ben Carroll on ABC radio in mid-January dismissing the 1,200 teacher vacancies listed on Recruitment Online, saying: “It’s not 1,200, but it’s fair to say we need more teachers because we’re opening more schools”, before promising that “every class will have a teacher” in 2024.

While schools will continue to bend over backwards to ensure that this is true, in reality, this means classes staffed by CRTs, classes split, and lessons covered by other teachers and principals. As our members know, that is not the same thing as having a permanent teacher in every classroom. Given the pressure schools are under, for the minister to pretend that everything is rosy is both disingenuous and insulting.

The state government has invested in several strategies to address shortages, as recommended in the AEU’s Ten-Year Plan for Staffing in Public Education – but it is not enough. They cannot continue to expect principals, teachers and ES to keep filling the gaps while claiming that there is “nothing to see here”. We expect better – and Minister Carroll and Premier Allan could start by insisting on a funding deal that delivers 100% for Victoria’s public schools. Without this, our students miss out and we will continue to face staff shortages and unsustainable workloads.

The AEU is committed to ensuring our disability members covered by expired ‘zombie agreements’ are shifted onto new agreements that reflect their professional skills and responsibilities.

It’s also going to be a big year for members in the TAFE, early childhood, and disability sectors. Teachers across the 12 standalone TAFEs have joined forces to demand a single interest agreement, giving them the right to take protected industrial action if needed. TAFE members have been waiting more than 12 months for government and employers to put a reasonable offer on the table that addresses their salary and workload concerns. Amid chronic skills shortages, government must invest in the TAFE workforce.

In early childhood, the Fair Work Commission has authorised the AEU, IEU, and UWU to bargain for a national early childhood agreement covering teachers and educators in early learning centres (mostly private), where staff have only been receiving award pay and conditions. Negotiations are underway, and we are jointly advocating for a wage increase of 25% for these members, as well as improvements to address workload concerns. This sits alongside imminent bargaining for the next iterations of our benchmark early childhood agreements, the VECTEAA and EEEA, to ensure these respect and value the critical work of teachers and educators employed in community sector and local government settings.

The AEU is also committed to ensuring that our disability members covered by expired ‘zombie agreements’ are shifted onto new workplace agreements that reflect their professional skills and responsibilities, and not be compelled to accept minimum award wages. As Fiona Katauskas’s cartoon on page 7 illustrates, if called on, we are ready and prepared for some ghost-busting!

No matter what sector you work in, 2024 is going to be another big year for the AEU, and we look forward to working with you to achieve further important wins for members.

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