LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

NSWTF needs to be agile

I am concerned that Federation has failed to restructure itself to support teachers in the environment of Local Schools, Local Decisions.

At the current time, principals in schools have been given increasing freedom to manage the affairs of their schools, a move that could result in localised negative impacts on teachers. Yet Federation has maintained a centralised philosophy of fighting the big bureaucrats in “Bridge Street” when the reality is that teachers are facing increased pressure from a local context.

What particularly concerns me is that since the introduction of Local Schools, Local Decisions Federation has remained unchanged in the way that it offers support to principals and teachers.

Under the Local Schools, Local Decisions model it is no longer acceptable that a one-size-fits-all union exists for principals and teachers. It is time for principals have their own union and for Federation to represent the interests of teachers.

I don’t wish to see Federation marginalised simply because it is too slow to adapt its governance to a new educational landscape.

Greg Adamson
Ariah Park Central School

President Maurie Mulheron replies:

Allow me to reiterate the Federation’s view of Local Schools Local Decision (LSLD), as outlined recently in a salaries bulletin:

“Federation opposes Local Schools, Local Decisions because it is a structural change designed by the NSW Treasury to reduce the number of support personnel employed across the Department. Its purpose is to force the Department of Education to meet the destructive ‘efficiency’ targets imposed each year by Treasury and the Department of Finance.

Although the administrative and support positions are being reduced each year to meet these annual targets, the work these public servants did still remains. Local Schools, Local Decisions is the marketing term used to hide the fact that principals and school staff at the local level will be forced to pick up the administrative workload which will only increase over time.

Public schools in NSW are facing some of the greatest challenges educators have ever faced, with high expectations to deliver, but at a time in our history when the Department of Education has the lowest level of non-school based staffing to support schools. This is the deceit behind Local Schools, Local Decisions.

Let’s remember: the only people empowered by LSLD have been Treasury officials.

The Federation has always been an activist-based model of unionism. In response to the LSLD, the Federation made a significant and effective change to governance: each school must elect a Workplace Committee, not just a Federation Representative and Women’s Contact.

This is particularly important when it comes to ensuring that a school’s staffing entitlement is protected. Intensive training across the state on this was developed at the time.

Let us remember that we have always been a union of locally-based activists. All members are assigned to a local Association. All Associations, and schools, are supported by 23 Organisers in the field. All members are encouraged to attend their monthly local Association meeting. This grassroots activism is central as to why the Federation is such a respected and successful union.

I do not agree with Greg when he suggests principals should not be eligible to be members of the Federation and should form their own union. After all, principals are teachers and are valued members of the Federation with as many rights as a member as anyone else. One union covering our profession is our great strength.

Politics hijacked our pay claims

Our last two salary agreements resulted in members in effect taking pay cuts when the CPI and the cost of living are taken into account.

At our December 3, 2013 stopwork meetings members were told Federation would “campaign very hard and commit serious resources to defeat the NSW Public Sector Wages policy” and that “Unions NSW would run an intensive joint campaign to defeat the policy”.

Many members correctly pointed out that Federation could not rely on Unions NSW because of their close alignment with the ALP. We were justifiably concerned that Unions NSW would once again hijack our campaign.

Instead of coordinated public sector-wide industrial action to defeat the State Wages Policy, Unions NSW presented “voting the government out”, a tacit “elect ALP” campaign, as the solution. As predicted, the Coalition was re-elected, its State Wages Policy remains intact and we are no closer to achieving salary justice.

Federation’s latest strategy to win higher teacher salaries is by building public support via a “teacher status” campaign.

While it is important to win public support there are weaknesses to this “teacher status” strategy.

Nursing is one the most highly regarded professions, partly because of the Nurses Association’s very effective campaign highlighting the amazing work nurses do. However, their high level of status is not reflected in pay and conditions.

It is the grossly unfair NSW Public Sector Wages Policy and the laws enforcing it that prevent salary justice. This wages policy is so ideologically driven it is not even applied consistently. Recently, the Commissioner for Police, already one of the highest paid public servants, received a $100,000 (20 per cent) per year pay rise, while simultaneously opposing an increase above 2.5 per cent for uniformed officers.

History has demonstrated that bad laws need to be challenged and defied for justice to be achieved. Federation needs to be prepared to challenge Baird’s unfair salary policy if it is to be defeated. If not, members will be told to accept more of the same.

John Gauci
Taverners Hill Infants School

Pension as need, not want

I must disagree with my respected comrade and fellow “old scheme” superannuant, Garry Grant (“Part pension rules blow”, Letters, September 7). Welfare is an entitlement based on need, not a reward for previous service. This includes disability support, allowances for dependent children and the age pension equally.

If one has a reasonable retirement income from superannuation or other sources no Commonwealth Aged Pension should apply. Tightening the means test (and assets test) on this is reasonable, just as regulations should be tightened to stop the very wealthy from using superannuation and other methods of avoiding tax or receiving unnecessary benefits.

Garry describes a loss of about $10,000 a year as equivalent to 15-20 per cent of a superannuant’s income, placing that current income at about $50,000-66,000 a year — $40,000–56,000 after the loss.

This income is totally tax-free and indexed yearly for CPI (and you can earn another $18,000 yearly tax-free). This substantially exceeds the minimum wage (about $34,000 yearly, pre-tax, for full-time work) and extends to the median wage of around $55,000 (about $45,000 after tax). Taking any lump sum is a choice.

Those who entered the service after the closure of this scheme have a far worse deal. So do thousands of casuals. So do those dependent wholly on the age or disability support pension ($20,337 yearly, reduced at 50 cents in the dollar for any income over $162 a fortnight) let alone Newstart ($13,500 yearly — after waiting a month).

This hardly places people like us among “those in the community who can least afford” any loss.

Unfortunately, welfare will always be a limited part of the Budget. It should go to those in most need. Rorts by the very rich might cost more, but the principle is the same.

Al Svirskis
Life Member

Loaded vote

If we weren’t already aware of the contempt that our employer has for its dedicated employees we certainly are now.

The proposed offer recently emailed to TAFE teachers demonstrates this. A resounding “no” can be the only reasonable response. Teachers considering voting for acceptance must realise that they are not only voting their colleagues and themselves out of a job but also finalising the complete destruction of TAFE as a broad-focused and well-respected educational institution.

Stephen Armstrong
TAFE teacher

Framework demands increase workload

The issue of workload is raised regularly at both Council and Annual Conference. Teachers are overwhelmed by the reform agenda and its impact on their daily teaching practices: an AEU survey of more than 2000 teachers this year found that 73 per cent believed their workload had significantly increased in the past two years.

The imposition of the Performance and Development Framework, together with the professional development plans and goals, observations and feedback and formal review meetings is adding to the workload of classroom teachers and their supervisors.

Linking goals to school plans and faculty/stage plans, identifying professional learning required and finding time to engage in professional discourse with supervisors is leaving little time for quality lesson planning and delivery and contributing to teachers’
stress levels.

The workload of principals, deputies, assistant principals and head teachers has increased dramatically with the responsibility for teacher accreditation shifting from BOSTES to school leaders. Principals or their delegates, as Teacher Accreditation Authorities, are now required to determine whether a staff member reaches the benchmarks for accreditation at Proficient level. If the teacher does meet the standards an Accreditation Report must be completed by the supervising teacher.

Each of the seven standards must be addressed and descriptions about how the teacher’s practice aligns with the standards must be included.

A quick look at the BOSTES teacher accreditation website will give you an indication of exactly how much work is required in this process. This all has to be verified and signed off by the principal, now the Teacher Accreditation Authority.

So when I hear that the new measures replace TARS and EARS [teacher and executive assessment reviews] and that they should not create any additional work and should capture what we are already doing as quality teachers I am at best cynical, and at worst …

Julie Ross
Chatswood IEC

Did you hear me say?

So now we have a Gonski Week of Action. Obviously the proposal for a National Day of Action from the floor at Annual Conference wasn’t ambitious enough, even though the call for a day of action was met with hysterical opposition and ridicule from the President and other members from the floor.

Statements from the President such as, “We don’t need a day of action because every day is Gonski Day!” and, “This proposal would derail the entire campaign!” were shrill at the time and now, in light of his endorsement and support for a National Week of Gonski Action, plainly stupid. The members wholeheartedly support Gonski and actions to promote the campaign. What the members deserve, for all their hard work and time in supporting and promoting the Gonski Campaign, is an explanation from the President on his dramatic flip-flop.

Paul Robson
Paddington PS

President Maurie Mulheron replies:

I understand Paul’s disappointment that his amendment was defeated overwhelmingly at Annual Conference when the vote was taken following debate. This is our union’s great strength. There’s a contest of ideas, at times vigorous debate, and finally a democratic vote. Some amendments are accepted by Conference, some are not.

This is transparent, democratic decision-making. Indeed, all Federation’s policies and strategies are determined by rank-and-file teachers who vote at Annual Conference, Council and Executive.

Conference voted to continue to support the Gonski campaign strategy knowing that it has been months in the planning and reported on and debated at every Council and Conference since the release of the Gonski report.

The annual National Gonski Week was originally an NSW idea and supported by all the states and territory branches of the Australian Education Union (AEU) last year and again this year.

The strength of holding a National Gonski Week rather than a single day is that, firstly, it gives the states and territories more flexibility. This is important when trying to coordinate hundreds of events across the country. Secondly, an entire week gives the Gonski campaign the potential for six or seven days of media coverage.

Finally, the essential strategy is for schools to invite members of parliament to attend Gonski events during the week to hear first-hand the positive impact of the additional funding. It is hard enough to find days when politicians are available even when a week is offered. It would be just about impossible if we were to restrict it to one single day. I believe delegates to Annual Conference made the correct decision.

Teacher status call doesn't haul in pay

Commencing with the 2013 salary deal, Federation has shifted from industrial-driven pay to standards performance.

Gary Zadkovich, as acting president, wrote: “If successful in building stronger community understanding and support for this ‘higher standards agenda’, a professional salary may be achieved that truly reflects the importance of teachers’ contribution to the education and life opportunities of students and the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of the nation” (Progressive policies for demanding times: union democracy at work”, Education July 27).

This logic is undermined by a history of surveys showing that humane-based professions of nursing, teaching and medicine are well regarded (while stockbroker, car salesman and, ahem, politicians are the least honourable) but that such standards have almost a reverse correlation to pay. Nurses, in fact, have not broken through pay barriers despite university-based entry upgrade from the 1990s.

Nurses, teachers and public servants make up the biggest financial outlay of state governments. We are a major cost, which is why they have tried to cap our pay rises at 2.5 per cent.

We beat this cap under Labor. We rallied at State Parliament House when then Labor premier Bob Carr took the unprecedented step of sticking his nose into our 2003 Work Value case to the Industrial Relations Commission.

The 2012 pay deal carried a big carrot, with pay advances for new teachers funded on the savings the Department pocketed with the retirement of top pay-scale baby boomers.

The state budget is now back in surplus, partly from stamp duty dividends from booming property price rises. Teachers cannot afford housing in the communities in which they teach. It’s time for Fed to publicise a timetable of member consultations, then broadcasts, to mobilise members to win fair value pay.

John Morris
Sir Joseph Banks HS

Carefully taught

Reading Maurie Mulheron’s column ("You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught", President Writes, September 7) reminded me of a suggestion I penned to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and The Sydney Morning Herald several years ago.

When there was the inevitable social comment transgression from the likes of a Jones, Hadley or Smith it was mooted that they be required to use that song from South Pacific quoted by Mr Mulheron as their introductory theme for a designated period of time. Sadly, ACMA chose to ignore this constructive contribution.

Gus Plater
Life Member

TAFE nurtures so much potential

I am a teacher consultant for students with disabilities and also the TAFE Teachers Federation Representative at Wollongong Campus.

When I started at TAFE the state government of the day, the Greiner Liberal government, understood the role education plays in assisting disadvantaged people make the transition from welfare dependence to employment and a reasonable standard of living.

Together with colleagues from across NSW and representatives of peak organisations I regularly attended meetings to discuss strategies on the best ways to accommodate for the needs of students with disabilities. The disadvantaged had a voice and this was reflected in the development of inclusive government policies and services.

I witnessed so many students realise their potential and gain employment.

There was the young man who became paraplegic who completed his HSC and went on to university who now runs his own IT company, the young lady with a medical condition who completed the certificate and later a PhD in engineering, the man who had not worked for 14 years who gained employment in the welfare industry and the former student, who is quadriplegic, who became a TAFE teacher and tutored a student with an acquired brain injury in architectural design, assisting him to gain employment. The list goes on.

But vocational education in NSW is now operating on a business model where success is measured by profit margins, not student achievements. The terms “course” and “student” have been replaced with “product” and “customer”. But business lingo, company branding and empty slogans are of no use to students, employers or governments when qualifications are worthless.

Undoubtedly, TAFE and VET have to keep moving with the times and be responsive to changing student needs and developments in technology. But Smart and Skilled, which has encouraged the growth in unscrupulous training providers, replacement of courses with tick-and-flick work-based assessments and online programs, where students are expected to develop practical skills watching videos, is not the answer.

VET and TAFE has been damaged by Smart and Skilled but if action is taken immediately to address the issues raised in the submissions furnished to this inquiry there is hope for the many disadvantaged in our community, who need face-to-face courses and qualified teachers to help them gain the skills needed for a job.

Lorraine Watson
Wollongong TAFE

Card surcharge hits pensioners

The lack of effort by government to control or eliminate credit card surcharges shows how government now “lives in a box” and does not have consideration for ordinary people in the community.

The use of credit cards has been a boon for aged pensioners such as ourselves, enabling us to much better balance our finances considering that the use of cash these days is becoming more and more difficult.

We are sometimes forced to use credit cards for essentials such as rates payments, chemist bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, hospital cover, supermarket purchases, electricity, water and transport if we are to survive, considering that my wife and I are 77 and 78 years respectively.

Bill Barwood
Retired

I am woman, hear me roar

Congratulations on the eye-opening reports on the Women’s Conference (Education, September 7). It is inspiring to read that activist women are steadfast in their fight for equal pay despite that victory for teachers in 1963.

It was heart-warming that revolutionary goals were given precedence over pedagogical ones, as evidenced by the article by Federation Senior Vice President Joan Lemaire (“Power and privilege: equity sticking points”). I have every confidence that the 200 women attending the male-free conference would revolutionise societies better than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao or Khomeini.

Like the Women’s Conference attendees, I too am perplexed why it is that despite advances in girls’ education, equal pay has not been attained between either the genders or the sexes. Activist women must fight for pay justice to revalue career rewards on the basis of comparability — say, between a truck driver and a teacher.

Women need to consider ways of eliminating all social cues that influence children to identify as boys or girls. All children must be empowered to select their genders, irrespective of their sex and behaviour-influencing hormones, especially testosterone.

It is morally uplifting that the leading women of our union put concerns mentioned ahead of trifles such as women’s second-class status under shari’a, rape as a weapon of war, sex slavery under ISIL, honour killings, female genital mutilation, incisions in vaginas (causing fistulas, incontinence and ostracism), peri-natal mortality or, in our own society, violence — often murderous — towards women.

Only Women’s Conference attendees can provide the progressive leadership that the world needs to attain victim-free equality, equity, opportunity and individual determination of social roles and goals. And pay justice. And equal sharing of housework by the male-gendered.

Paul Winter
Retired

Senior Vice President, Joan Lemaire replies:

Since its inception, Federation has been a social justice union that has sought to change social structures and institutions that create and entrench inequality. Annual Conference policies on gender equity, anti-racism, Aboriginal Education, workers’ rights, salaries and working conditions, curriculum, violence, harassment and discrimination are all aimed at creating a fairer and more equal society.

Gains have been made by the Federation in terms of pay equity that go beyond the concept of equal pay for equal work and have resulted in improvements to paid maternal and parental leave, temporary and casual pay and conditions, as well as family and carers leave that have benefited both women and men. These gains have not prevented campaigns on other issues.

Federation has pursued issues related to violence and harassment in the workplace as well as domestic violence. Federation has also contributed to national and international campaigns by the AEU and Education International on issues raised by Mr Winter.

It is important to oppose the many forms of violence and obfuscation directed at women and girls which seek to silence their voices, undermine their work and justify existing inequality. Misogyny is unacceptable in all its forms.

Carbon copy

No religion at all

Sydney Morning Herald

I totally agree with Maria Hitchcock (Letters, October 7) that all chaplains and religious instruction be forbidden in NSW public schools.

The public education system is a secular institution. Federal and state finances are wasted employing chaplains who can only be of a religious faith. Also, educational teaching and learning time is wasted as a period of time has to be timetabled into the school week to allow for religious instruction or scripture, as it is usually called, to take place.

When I was working at a local Newcastle high school as a qualified school counsellor (registered psychologist) the last period each Monday was set aside for staff meetings and the students went home one period early. Out of about 700 students only a handful stayed back to participate in the scripture lesson their parents wanted them to attend.

If parents want their children to receive religious instruction they should send them to a private school which accords to their religious choice.

A complete ban on scripture, prayer meetings and chaplains would make the audit of what happens in NSW public schools in relation to religious instruction very easy. That is, every school should answer, “none at all”.

Mila Yates
Casual