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NSW public school teachers to strike for first time in a decade as sector faces ‘perfect storm’

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

New South Wales public teachers will strike for the first time in more than a decade in response to a “statewide staffing crisis” caused by stagnating wages and an escalating workload.

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said a unanimous vote among council members passed on Saturday morning.

Principals will join with teachers on Tuesday 7 December for the 24-hour strike, accompanied by a statewide advertising campaign to be rolled out on television, radio and print.

Related: ‘Everyone’s bailing’: Australian teachers speak on stress and uncertainty of increasing casual contracts

Gavrielatos said expectations on teachers were increasing while rewards and pathways weren’t providing “enough incentive” to keep staff in the job.

“This … reflects the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in,” he said.

“Over the course of the last 18 months we have exhausted all options available to us to arrive at a negotiated settlement with the government. Every year teachers have been asked to do more and every year their salary has fallen compared to other professions.”

The union had failed to successfully lobby the state government to lift a 2.5% wages cap that it said had contributed to decline in graduates. The number of vacant permanent positions in NSW schools had increased by 80% since June.

An independent inquiry tabled this year warned the NSW government teachers’ workloads were so high that quality of practice espoused in policy documents was “simply not attainable” without additional release time.

The Gallop inquiry, released in February, found “the salary levels in place and projected for the next three to five years are dangerous for the public standing of the profession, and for the quality of education available to the students of the state’s public schools.”

“Instead of recognising teachers’ workloads are unsustainable, turning people off teaching and limiting what can be done for students, they are refusing to increase your release time,” Gavrielatos said.

“We are facing a perfect storm: plummeting new graduate numbers, rising enrolments, an ageing workforce which spell out acute teacher shortages.

“If we don’t act now, workloads will continue to rise and salaries will continue to fall relative to other professions.”

The union is calling for a salary increase for teachers and principals of between 5% and 7.5% per year in line with recommendations of the Gallop inquiry. It is also calling for a two-hour increase in preparation time for lesson planning and collaboration with colleagues outside of school.

A state government survey found one-third of teachers had time to do their job well, while time for planning and teaching outside the classroom hadn’t increased since the 1980s for primary teachers and the 1950s for secondary teachers.

Department of Education documents provided to the union warned NSW could run out of teachers within five years due to declining numbers of graduates, rising enrolments and a rapidly ageing workforce.

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A briefing in August last year said “the salary ceiling and perceptions regarding career trajectory may be impeding choices to become a teacher”.

Gavrielatos said the strike was for “every teacher, in every classroom across NSW. It is also about every student”. “We cannot have a situation where kids are missing out due to a lack of teachers,” he said.

“This is about the future of the teaching profession and the quality of education children receive. No student should miss out because of a lack of teachers, but this is what is going to increasingly happen across NSW if the government fails to act.”

The NSW industrial award that determines the salaries and conditions of teachers is set to expire in December.

Reports suggest all 2,200 of the state’s public schools may be impacted by the industrial action, with as many as 60,000 teachers considering taking part.

The NSW department of education is yet to respond to the announcement.

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