With negotiations for a new Schools Agreement in full flight, the broader industrial and political context has become increasingly important. While thankfully there’s a good chance there will be no further big COVID-19 outbreaks here, the effect of the pandemic on achieving a new agreement, at least in simple terms, is twofold.
Firstly, we know the community has increased respect for the work of teachers, principals and ES staff. Parents, especially, have a deeper understanding of the complex work we do to prepare and deliver high-quality education, and the considerable effort required to cater for students’ welfare needs. The government would be foolish to deny this greater standing and goodwill afforded to school staff.
Secondly, the state budget has taken a significant hit. Public sector unions have been bargaining throughout the pandemic, with public servants achieving a 3.25% per annum salary increase – considerably higher than the state government’s basic offer of 2%.
The AEU negotiated a new agreement for kindergarten teachers and educators which, once approved by the Fair Work Commission, will see salary increases of 13–30% over four years. This was a major achievement, particularly when set against the experience of AEU members in other states and territories, where wage freezes, small lump sum payments or salary offers of 1% to 1.5% have been common.
AEU members have made it crystal clear to the Andrews government that resources to address excessive workloads must be on the negotiating table.
The government’s bargaining framework is built around key public sector priorities, and enables changes to agreement conditions where they address key operational or strategic priorities for the sector or department. Time will tell if reducing the excessive workloads of education staff in the state’s public schools is one of them.
As this edition goes to press, over 10,000 schools members have had their say about their work and working conditions through our latest State of Our Schools survey. Their feedback makes plain the impact that excessive workload is having on the profession, from staff burnout, through issues affecting the quality of education, to some members electing to leave the teaching service altogether. Additional resources to employ more school staff are a must, as are agreement clauses that enable core work to be completed within working hours.
For more than 15 years, AEU members have campaigned for greater public school funding. While the most recent bilateral funding agreement between Victoria and the Commonwealth failed to lift our state off the bottom of the funding pile – support that would provide members with the resources to do their jobs properly and sustainably – it does deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to schools until 2023.
As the details of the deal have not been made public, the amount is unclear. But, whatever the lack of transparency on schools funding, AEU members have made it crystal clear to the Andrews government that resources to address excessive workloads must be on the negotiating table. There will be no new Schools Agreement without it.