IRC meets on HSC onscreen markers’ pay

Greg Butler
Industrial/Research Officer

Counter-arguments over "per unit rate"

The Industrial Relations Commission will hear further arguments from Federation over award pay affecting external onscreen markers of the Higher School Certificate on March 3.

The dispute with the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BoSTES) initially covered only markers of English (Standard and Advanced) Paper 1 but has since extended to other written papers including Drama, English as a Second Language, Music 1, Music 2, Society and Culture, Modern Hebrew, Vietnamese and CCAFL courses (Armenian, Croatian, Filipino, Serbian, Swedish and Ukrainian).

Dispute notices were filed by the Federation and the Independent Education Union on November 3, 2015, after discussions with BOSTES failed to resolve the dispute.

The marking operation itself proceeded and concluded without industrial action.

Under the award, onscreen markers in external mode are not paid an hourly rate of pay but a per script rate of pay. For Mathematics markers, the amount of pay per question is specified by the award. For markers of other written papers, however, the award provides a formula which takes into account differences in examination specifications including duration and question value.

Federation found BOSTES had not published its calculation of rates per script when applying the award’s formula.

The formula requires conversion of a “per unit rate” which in 2015 was $27.04. The “per unit rate” is expressly defined in a schedule to the award as payable on a “per three-hour paper basis”. When the duration of the paper is less than three hours, the formula requires the “per unit rate” to be multiplied by the fraction of three hours allowed for the “paper” under the exam specifications and to be multiplied again by the percentage value of the question in the “paper”.

For English (Standard and Advanced) Paper 1 in 2015, each of questions 1, 2 and 3 were worth one-third of the total mark value of a two hour “paper”. Accordingly, the unions claim that the amount per script in the first English paper should be $6.001.

Before Commissioner Peter Newall on November 12, BOSTES raised counter-arguments of interpretation, claiming that “paper” means “course” and that the “per unit rate” is an amount “per 100 marks” rather than a “per three-hour paper” amount. This interpretation results in a significantly lower payment to markers of the first English paper, being $4.056 per script.

Further discussions directed by Commissioner Newall extended the unions’ dispute with BoSTES to wherever a written paper’s duration and total marks is not proportional to three hours for 100 marks.

In the Commission, BOSTES has also raised a jurisdictional argument against the unions’ claim. It has argued that a determination by the Commission in the unions’ favour would be disallowed by the public sector wages policy under the Industrial Relations Act for exceeding an allowable 2.5 per cent annual salary increase plus the “employee-related savings” achieved by the roll-out of onscreen external marking. BoSTES would need to provide the figures to sustain this argument.

At a report back to the Commission on November 26, the unions reported on the scope of the dispute.

Due to the legal profession’s summer recess, the availability of BOSTES’ barrister and the timing of recruitment action for the 2016 marking operation, the next formality scheduled by the Commission is a full-day conciliation conference on March 3.

Information on developments in the court proceedings will be provided in future journal articles, web stories and the Federation’s Facebook page.

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