Conditions not cash: union reps speak out about upcoming school strikes

STRIKE ACTION: The AEU is fighting for teachers not being overworked and transparency in decision making.

STRIKE ACTION: The AEU is fighting for teachers not being overworked and transparency in decision making.

Across the South East select schools will have staff on strike on Monday July 1, due to a dispute between the State Government and the Australian Education Union's South Australian Branch.

Schools that will be closed in solidarity with the union include:

  • Naracoorte High School
  • Lucindale Area School
  • Allendale East Area School
  • Grant High School
  • Keith Area School
  • Kongorong Child Parent Centre
  • Kongorong Primary School
  • Mil Lel Primary School
  • Moorak Child Parent Centre
  • Mount Gambier High School
  • Mount Gambier North Primary School (Intensive English Language Program with be open - modified program)
  • Reidy Park Primary School
  • Yahl Primary School

Speaking with a South East spokesperson for the Australian Education Union SA, they wanted to make it clear that the State Government had painted the strike as an argument about money, but on the other side, it was about teachers and other staff demanding better working conditions.

"This is not a pay dispute, this is about the conditions of teachers, and the students that are in our care," they said.

"It's about smaller classrooms and teachers being able to deliver individual education outcomes to each and every student."

Media releases sent from the office of Treasurer Rob Lucas have slammed the strike, accusing the strikers of causing "maximum chaos" and "additional costs for hardworking families."

The Treasury have also pointed out the statistics of the current schools on strike - 28 per cent - compared to 2008's strike (47 per cent), are proof that more education workers in the state supported the government's terms and offers.

"We welcome the fact that the overwhelming majority of teachers and school staff have rejected the demands of the union bosses from the Australian Education Union to close down their schools in favour of a premeditated photo opportunity and protest on the steps of Parliament House,'' stated Mr Lucas.

"However, clearly a significant number of people respected the fact that this is an entirely fair and reasonable offer, with a 2.35 per cent per annum pay rise over three years - much higher than the current rate of inflation of 1.3 per cent.

"We have also offered 3.35 percent per annum for principals and preschool directors to May 2022. In addition, there is $1.3 billion in capital works funding for schools announced in the recent 2019-20 State Budget, and also an extra $611 million a year into education by 2022-23."

Matthew Cherry is the sub-branch Secretary for the Australian Education Union in the South East, and he has been left disappointed and displeased at the school strike being portrayed as a spat over pay when from the union perspective, it's about fighting for what's fair for the people on the front line.

"It's been frustrating to see and read stories where it (the strike) is all about pay, when as a union rep, what we want to talk about is the conditions," he said.

"We want to see decisions made fairly, and that these decisions involve people who are in the classroom. What the government is trying to do is remove that voice."

Mr Cherry explained that in every school there is a Personnel Advisory Committee (sometimes known as a School Advisory Council) which currently requires a representative from the Australian Education Union.

"What these committees do is look into things such as human resources, staff workloads, and whether the school environment is safe and comfortable," Mr Cherry said.

"The union representative will look into things such as enterprise agreements, labour law, and the grievances process. The other representatives on the committee don't consider the enterprise agreements as much as the Education Union reps, because we've been trained to understand these documents."

The government wants to bring in changes that would mean a union representative on Personal Advisory Committee wouldn't be mandatory.

In addition to this, any changes made by the Education Department to a school policy wouldn't need to be first scrutinised by the Australian Education Union.

Mr Cherry is concerned that under these changes, teachers and students would be the first to bear the brunt.

"When teachers are overworked, the results of students nosedive," he said.

"We care about our students. There's not one teacher I know at my school who doesn't have their students' best interests in mind."