The Guardian May 10, 2000


Teachers squeezed to pay Olympic debt

by Marcus Browning

While last week's 24 hour strike by NSW teachers was yet another message to 
the Carr Government that teachers drew the line against the further 
undermining of public education months ago, when the Government first 
sparked the dispute, there is another item on the agenda which has been 
kept way in the background by the Government: the cost of the 2000 Sydney 
Olympic Games.

Part of the Government's strategy is a pay deal it has struck with three 
public sector unions; the Public Service Association, the Health and 
Research Employees' Association and the NSW Nurses' Association.

The deal includes a two percent pay increase each year for 2000 and 2001, 
followed by three percent in 2002, four percent prior to the state election 
in 2003 and five percent following soon after that election (assuming Carr 
is re-elected).

These minimal rises  which are to be offset by productivity "efficiency" 
trade-offs  are part of a cost-cutting exercise connected to the looming 
Olympic debt.

State public school teachers declined to enter into the deal and so are now 
being belted from pillar to post by the Labor Government to try and force 
them to "contribute" to the alleviation of what is to be a monster Olympic 
economic hangover.

That does not rule out a political agenda. As the Teachers' Federation 
observed: "The suggestion that public school teachers be paid less, and 
that casual teachers continue to be paid significantly less, than teachers 
in the non-government sector, whose salaries are largely funded by the 
Government, represents an attack on public education."

It was in November last year when teachers were handed an unacceptable 
package which would have pulled the insides out of their award conditions 
and wages.

The Government's award application also came with an insulting pay offer 
attached that was below the inflation rate.

In fact the Minister for Education, John Aquilina, had pulled the plug on 
meaningful negotiations as far back as October 1998 when he failed to 
respond to a salaries and status claim from the NSW Teachers' Federation.

Last year's hit list, which was delivered by Director General of Education 
Ken Boston, included school hours of 7am to 10pm Monday to Saturday, 
schools to be open 50 weeks a year, all teachers to have their teaching 
hours increased and face an annual inspection by the Department in order to 
progress to the next pay level.

Secondary school principals would have job security for only five years and 
would be subject to annual performance reviews.

They would  along with school counsellors, home liaison officers and 
career advisors  also have their annual holidays reduced by four weeks.

As the dispute became sharper, and it became clear that the Government had 
no intention of trying to peacefully resolve the issues  it was actually 
on a course to impose retrograde changes  its tactics turned dirty. 

Taxpayers' money was used in a media campaign to vilify teachers and turn 
the public against them.

Yet, despite the intimidation and the impression created by the Government 
that anarchy reigned, only 15 school days have been lost during the entire 
protracted dispute.

The State's Independent Education Union reached agreement with Catholic 
school employers in a process which set aside the draconian demands and 
allowed for a comprehensive agreement to be negotiated, something the Carr 
Government refuses to do.

In the final analysis the Federation is actually fighting for the viability 
of the public education system so that the system can provide a quality 
education for its masses of students.

As such, it also wants the Government to address the drastic teacher 
shortage, the attempt to reduce their wages and conditions only acts as a 
deterrent to people seeking to enter the profession.

The Federation gives, as an example of the dire situation, research 
indicating that by 2004 governments will only be able to meet 81 percent of 
demand for primary school teachers and only 66 percent of demand for high 
school teachers.

Add to this the ruthless drive by the Federal Government to undermine 
public education nationally through the Enrolment Benchmark Adjustment 
scheme which funnels Commonwealth funding into private schools, and you 
have the makings of a major crisis in public education.

At the moment, for every dollar the Federal Government gives the private 
system, only 42 cents goes to state schools. By 2002 the public system will 
have lost $800 million through this scheme.

"The salary increases `offered' [by the Government] will not provide the 
necessary incentive to retain experienced teachers in schools, nor attract 
graduates in the numbers required to address this massive teacher 
shortage", warned the Federation.

Last week's 24 hour strike was yet again caused by the Carr Government's 
rejection of the Federation's proposal "for arbitration of outstanding 
matters".

Teachers reaffirmed their stand, calling for:

* no salary discounting;
* salary parity for casual school teachers;
* pay equity for part-time TAFE teachers;
* no increased work load for teachers;
* respect for teacher professionalism.

Teachers have also noted the Carr Government's embracing of the "New 
Labour" idea touted by the Blair Government in Britain, the Premier 
declaring that the NSW ALP would be following the Blair blueprint, a form 
of slash-and-burn extreme right economic policies allied with a move to cut 
the ALP's ties to the union movement.

This accounts for the Government's utter contempt for the NSW Teachers' 
Federation in this dispute. And someone will have to pay for the mountain 
of Olympic debt now piling up  a debt that will take years to settle. But 
it won't be the Government's corporate cohorts, so the squeeze is now on 
essential services such as education.

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