Up to 1400 teachers in 48 Catholic schools in the Canberra and Goulburn region are preparing for strike action after the ACT/NSW Independent Education Union requested ballot papers for approved industrial action from the Fair Work Commission.
Frustrated by what the union has described as uncertainty regarding an upcoming enterprise agreement, school teachers within the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn will decide whether to join their NSW colleagues with three-hour stop-work meetings.
The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn includes major schools in Canberra St. Francis Xavier College, Merici, Mackillop College and St Clare’s as well as Catholic schools in Goulburn, Queanbeyan, Cooma, Gundagai, Young, and West Wyalong.
Independent Education Union assistant secretary Carol Matthews said an industrial action campaign involving teachers from 450 Catholic schools in NSW was launched on Thursday concerning a new enterprise agreement released in April.
Teachers in Wollongong were the first to attend stop-work meetings on Thursday with further action to be taken by teachers in Sydney, Armidale, Bathurst, Lismore, Wagga Wagga, Wilcannia, Forbes, Broken Bay, and Parramatta by the end of next week.
“The industrial action in NSW includes three-hour stop work meetings at various locations, wearing campaign badges and material, and providing information to the community and the media,” she said.
Ms Matthews said teachers within the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn had not joined the strike due to a technicality regarding the timing of their enterprise agreement, but have sought approval for similar strike action in coming weeks.
“We’ve had a significant number of meetings with the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn [regarding the agreement] but the issues that concern us have not been resolved,” she said.
“Our complaint is that the agreement abolishes promotion positions for anyone below the position of principal and removes regulation around teaching conditions for face-to-face teaching and support for beginning teachers.”
“It also proposes removing caps on class sizes while being unclear when it comes to teacher salaries.”
Ms Matthews said the current agreement ensured no classroom from kindergarten to grade three could exceed 30 students.
The union’s 1400 members in the Canberra and Goulburn region are expected to finalise voting on industrial action by early August.
Ms Matthews said there was a possibility the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn would reconsider their position following industrial action in NSW, although she was not confident this would be the case.
Independent Education Union (IEU) general secretary John Quessy said teachers in the ACT and NSW were sending a strong message that they “would not accept threats to pay, conditions, and job security”.
“The history of the Catholic education system is one of struggle. The battleground on this occasion is the dismantling of conditions which underpin the delivery of quality education,” he said.
“Stop work actions in the ACT will allow IEU members to vent their displeasure until the employer generated document is withdrawn.”
Mr Quessy said the union was prepared to continue to fight the proposed enterprise agreement for as long as it took.
But Catholic Commission for Employment Relations executive director Tony Farley said the union had misled Catholic school staff into believing their conditions were under threat by the new agreement.
“The union knows that we will negotiate a deal regardless of whether or not industrial action occurs,” he said.
“They need to come clean and concentrate on negotiations not conflict.”
Mr Farley said industrial action would only result in teachers losing three hours pay, students losing three hours of learning time, and parents having unnecessary anxiety.
“From the very beginning Catholic Employers have told the union that everything they have proposed is negotiable – we’ve never said any of our proposals are take it or leave it,” he said.