In late June, Queensland teachers received their first offer from the government as part of negotiations for a new agreement. A week earlier, a record-breaking 94 percent of Queensland Teachers’ Union members had voted in favour of industrial action if their key demands – a reduction in workloads, a pay rise to achieve parity with interstate pay rates, provisions to address the gender pay gap and pay rises for heads of department and school administration staff – were not met. The offer doesn’t come close to addressing these four demands satisfactorily and has provoked a significant backlash among rank-and-file teachers.
A Facebook group hostile to the offer attracted more than 2,000 members in less than two weeks. It shows teachers, old and young, at breaking point. For them, the government’s offer is an insult to the hard work teachers put in to educate the next generation. Posts describe in harrowing detail the toll high workloads in particular are taking.
“The other weekend I couldn’t stop crying”, one Brisbane high school teacher describes. “I had been at my desk marking from 4pm Friday and had to keep going until 1am Monday with a few short breaks for food, and I still hadn’t finished what I needed to ... It wasn’t like this when I started teaching a decade ago. I used to have hobbies and time to sleep ... As things got worse over the years I kept thinking surely there has to be a limit to our workload? Surely something has to give?”
One of the few concrete improvements proposed by the department is a small increase in non-contact time for primary school teachers, to be implemented only at the very end of the agreement period. Currently, primary school teachers get only two paid hours a week for marking and lesson preparation, an amount that hasn’t increased in over two decades.
One primary school teacher wrote, “I’m concerned about the offer of only 30 extra minutes non-contact time for primary teachers, and even that doesn’t start until 2022!! Why??!! ... start the 30 minutes extra now, and reduce the assessments required so we can plan great lessons and actually teach again”.
The pay offer from the government remains at 2.5 percent for classroom teachers, with a one-off $1,250 payment that will not count towards superannuation or future pay increases. This is a long way from the 4.5 percent needed to achieve parity with teachers in other states.
Teachers are quick to point out that while the education minister claims she “rewards the work that teachers do every day”, quite often it’s teachers who are expected to pay for classroom resources. “Who pays for the resources to craft with, cook with, complete science experiments with?” asks one on the page. “We do! My hard-earned wage pays for these things. … Our kind hearted, dedicated role as teachers is the very reason we often say ‘yes’ to benefiting ‘our kids’ but to the detriment of our own financial status and health. And yet we are still fighting for fair remuneration for our job ... which as we know is not ‘just teaching’.”
While thousands are angry that the offer fails to address the four key demands teachers voted to prioritise, the leadership of the union has entered into an in-principle agreement with the government and is recommending members vote to accept the offer.
This has sparked outrage from members. “Such a disappointment!” wrote one teacher. “I’m a big advocate for union membership, but this time you’ve missed the mark.” Another described it as a “joke”, arguing, “Which of the four key points have been addressed? Certainly not workload or wage increase. 2.5 percent a long way off.”
A similar offer was turned down by Queensland teachers during the last round of enterprise bargaining in 2016. This prompted the government to improve the offer, even without the threat of industrial action. This time around, and in the context of a state-wide teacher shortage, teachers are in a position of even greater strength. It would be a wasted opportunity not to push for more.
As one teacher put it, “It’s a fact that 50 percent of teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years. My question is how will this [offer] change this very scary statistic? …A one-off payment (heavily taxed), a 2.5 percent pay rise each year (far less than we asked for), and some extra non-contact time in two or three years. My concern in accepting this ... is that the statistic will remain the same or worsen before the next [negotiations]”.
Dissenting teachers are vowing to campaign strongly for a “no” vote when the offer is put to teachers in the next few weeks.