Hunter teachers initiated strike action for the second time in six months on May 4 due to uncompetitive salaries and the overwhelming staff shortages experienced across the state.

Teaching faculty are protesting their current salaries and working conditions. Photo: Jack Galvin-Waight

Over 2500 primary school, high school and early education teachers assembled at Newcastle City Hall on May 4 before marching to Civic Park, calling for two hours of extra planning time per week and a pay increase of between five and 7.5 per cent for the sector.

NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) regional organiser, Jack Galvin-Waight, said a big contingent of teachers represented Newcastle during the march.

“Teacher shortages and excessive workloads are crippling our schools in the Hunter,” he said.

“The atmosphere was electric as teachers vented their anger and said enough to a state government that doesn’t care about students and the profession.

“Workload, uncompetitive salaries and teacher shortages were the big issues with many schools simply unable to find enough teachers.”

There are currently 114 permanent vacancies across public schools in the Hunter Region and over 2300 vacancies across NSW.

A new poll of 10,000 NSW teachers released on April 26 found that 82 per cent said shortages led to higher teacher workloads at their schools.

Seventy per cent of teachers said they were reconsidering their position due to the increased workloads.

“Government report after government report has stated the main reasons why teachers don’t want to stay in the profession are unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries,” said NSWTF President, Angelo Gavrielatos.

“The simple truth is that if we don’t pay teachers what they are worth and address excessive workloads, we will not retain nor attract the teachers we know we need.

“Acting on uncompetitive salaries and unsustainable workloads is the only way to stop more teachers leaving and attract the people into the profession we need to fix the shortages.”

In a statement, the Department of Education said it was working toward a solution for the issues.

“The NSW Government is working on a number of initiatives to deliver a sustainable supply of quality teachers and is on track to deliver 3,700 teachers with the right subject qualifications in the right locations over ten years,” the statement read.

“This includes delivering 1,600 of these teachers over the first five years of the strategy.

“We have filled over 6,400 teaching positions for 2021 … and in the 2021/22 NSW Budget, $125 million was committed over four years to deliver the initiatives included in the Teacher Supply Strategy.”

Over 2500 primary school, high school and early education teachers protested on May 4. Pictured in Newcastle City Hall. Photo: Jack Galvin-Waight

NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet, said he would attempt to increase the 2.5 per cent wage cap increase for public sector workers in the June budget, in line with the NSWTF demand of a five to 7.5 per cent wage increase.

On May 4, the arbitration of the Department of Education’s award application before the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) was suspended until October 2022.

“This delay in IRC proceedings provides another opportunity to enter genuine direct negotiations over the growing crisis impacting students, their families and the teaching profession,” said NSWTF regional organiser, Jack Galvin-Waight.

“With a dramatic decline in Initial Teacher Education commencement and completion rates and a 25 per cent increase in student enrolment over the next 20 years, we are staring down the barrel of a potential teacher shortfall of at least 15,000 teachers across public and Catholic schools in NSW by the end of the decade.”

Galvin-Waight said the adoption of the union’s demand was an investment in the future of education.

“Our teachers and students in the Hunter deserve better,” he said.

“This is in the Premier’s hands. For the future of the profession and students in the Hunter, the State Government must act.”

The NSWTF council will meet in four weeks to review negotiations and decide on further action.

The 24- hour industrial action formed part of the More Than Thanks campaign that is protesting the current working conditions.

Public schools remained open with minimal supervision during the 24-hour industrial action, but parents were encouraged to keep children at home.

Maia O’Connor

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