Negotiations for the new early childhood sector agreements – the VECTEA and EEEA – have stalled after the Department of Education and Training cancelled a series of meetings. The reason provided by DET is that the central agencies – the Department of Treasury and Finance and Industrial Relations Victoria – are not yet in a position to decide on the funding they can make available for the VECTEA and EEEA. The main challenge for government is their public sector wages policy of 2% per annum increases, as the in-principle agreements between the AEU, ELAA and MAV significantly exceed that.
The wages policy does provide capacity to go beyond 2% – and we will continue to argue that the outcomes achieved in the draft agreements meet its criteria. In our view, these outcomes – wage parity for teachers, salary increases for educators, removal of validation, and clauses to alleviate workload – fit within the Victorian government’s wages policy ‘pillars’. They are also key to its stated policy of attracting and retaining a workforce to deliver three-year-old kindergarten.
Despite this, we have had to campaign for funding to meet the costs of the proposed agreements – and now we are also working against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. Measures to support the community during COVID-19 are drawing heavily on the state budget and contributing to the delay in the government’s response.
Although bargaining meetings were cancelled at the outset of Term 3, discussions continued throughout the latter part of Term 2. To support this work, early childhood members commenced campaigning to ensure members of the Andrews government were aware of the lack of progress.
Members have posted comments on the Facebook pages of their local MPs, and other key Labor ministers, with information about the differences in salaries between school and EC staff, as well as workload pressures. This inequity was particularly highlighted as early childhood teachers and educators continued to attend on-site during Term 2 as essential workers.
The AEU’s political advocacy has continued behind the scenes with employer groups, DET, the education minister and other members of government. At the branch council meeting on 19 June, council endorsed the option for AEU leadership to escalate political and industrial campaign activities, including through an application for a Protected Action Ballot Order (PABO), if satisfactory progress is not made.
At the time of going to press, bargaining has resumed and a government offer is being discussed.
Achieving a fair and reasonable outcome in these negotiations will be critical to the successful implementation of the ongoing rollout of three-year-old preschool programs, requiring approximately 6000 additional staff over the next ten years.
So far, AEU members have made more than 250 comments on MPs’ social media pages and most have received responses. We urge all early childhood members to share their stories about why it is vital for the state government to provide pay parity for early childhood teachers with their colleagues in schools; wage justice for educators; and clauses that alleviate workload pressures.
The AEU is planning the next steps of the campaign and will be calling on members to take part in our continued efforts to ensure the draft EC agreements are fully funded by the Victorian government.