An ongoing battle between the public sector and the State Government has seen Victorian teachers walk off the job twice in recent months. The industrial action has come in response to the Baillieu Government’s offer of a 2.5 per cent pay rise, which unions claim equals a pay cut due to the increase in the cost of living. Victorian teachers are seeking a pay rise of 30 per cent over four years.
Talks between the State Government and the AEU (Australian Education Union) over wage disputes broke down when the Government refused to uphold its promise to make Victorian teachers the highest paid in the country. There have so far been two stop-works, with up to 40,000 Victorian teachers striking. Those walking off the job included teachers from state, independent and Catholic schools, causing the closure of 400 schools during the action.
Members of the AEU maintain that there is likely to be a great amount of continued support for further strikes. The Sub Branch Representative for Boneo Primary School’s AEU branch, Sally Walsh, explains that, “the general view of the teachers is that Baillieu was elected on the grounds that he was going to make Victorian teachers the best paid in the country, and at the moment all he is offering is a pay cut.”
Despite the recent strikes, there appears to be no short-term solution, with both sides strongly upholding their position. Walsh states that “Among the teaching fraternity, I think there is going to be a huge amount of support for this project because it was an election promise that was made by Mr. Baillieu and he’s reneged on it.”
Rosebud Primary School Principal Tony Short believes that despite the wealth of support, it will not ultimately make a difference in achieving a pay rise for Victorian teachers. He suggests that the Government is too financially centred to care whether the teachers take industrial action; “I believe that they’ve got the right to strike, but I think in reality the Governments are so cold and focused on the dollars and cents, that they don’t really care if people go on strike or not.”
This refusal by the State Government to grant teachers higher pay coincides with other cuts to education, such as the recent TAFE cuts. These cuts have resulted in the closure of TAFE institutions statewide, such as Swinburne’s Lilydale campus, in addition to the imminent sale of both its Prahran and Lilydale campus. Furthermore, Walsh says that Baillieu “…also said there will be two billion dollars worth of cuts to public education.”
With education suffering blow after blow, questions must be asked about the agenda of the current Government. It is widely acknowledged that highly capable teachers are integral to successful learning outcomes, and yet the Government’s actions are likely to turn prospective teachers, especially those who are highly gifted and can easily find work elsewhere, off the job. Changes have recently been made requiring higher marks for qualification for a teaching degree, indicating that the Government does want better teachers. Without decent pay, however, high caliber students will look elsewhere. One must wonder how long it will be before the universities of Victoria suffer a similar fate.
A further problem is that quality staff members are being poached by other states who are willing to pay significantly more than Victoria for their expertise. Short says, “I know in fact one person who lives in Wangaratta who teachers in Albury. So for the cost of driving over the border each day, which is an hour drive, they’re going to access $12,000 a year more. Why wouldn’t you do that? So for all those Victorian schools along the border region, I’d be really disappointed if I was a principal. And you’ll lose the good ones.”
The State Government is also threatening to bring in performance pay, whereby teachers get paid according to how well their students perform. For teachers that are lucky enough to get a class that is bright and performs well, they will get paid accordingly highly. However, for those with a class that underperforms, no matter how good the quality of teaching, the payment is less despite the workload being the same. Teachers argue that teaching is a collaborative profession and performance pay will undermine its collegial nature. According to Rosebud Primary School principal Tony Short, “…in some schools where those teachers deserve to have that increase [in pay], why would you not reward them? I don’t think performance pay works in education. I think it’s ridiculous.”
For teachers, there looks to be no end in sight, with both parties refusing to back down and talks currently at a halt. The future of Victorian education appears bleak under the Baillieu State Government. If the Government wants educational outcomes that mark it as an industry leader and create opportunities for young people, they must adequately pay teachers. A pay increase of 2.5% is belittling, and will only further entrench already existing issues in education rather than resolve them.