«The planned actions are an absolute joke. This includes wearing red, posting on Facebook what we do outside of working hours and joining hubs to express our concerns to local MPs. Despite pressure to sign the agreement before the end of May, there is no discussion of any kind of strike, mass rallies or even small meetings to allow members to voice their concerns or force any kind of improvement in our miserable conditions. Union representatives did not attempt to explain these findings in relation to their boasts in 2017 when they unveiled the latest sectoral agreement. Four years ago, Victorian AEU President Meredith Peace said the «fair and reasonable» agreement addresses workload by once introducing a term «professional practice days» where an assistant teacher attends teachers` lessons while they plan, evaluate or do professional development work. A glossy poster sent to each public school called for a «yes» on the basis: «Your FEU main school agreement has: REDUCED WORKLOAD.» The agreement was passed with an overwhelming majority of 87.5% yes votes in the employee vote. The starting point for a new agreement must not be what the government and the union consider «affordable» as part of a pandemic-related austerity policy, but rather what is needed to create decent working conditions for teachers and school staff and adequate educational facilities for all public school students. The union, which represents victorian public school teachers and principals, has taken the first step towards industrial action, including a possible nationwide strike, due to the stalemate in which its negotiations on company deals with the Andrews government have stalled. That the Joint Council of the Primary and Secondary Sectors of the AEU take note of the full progress report on negotiations on an agreement to replace the 2017 Victorian Schools Agreement (VGSA). Under the expired Victorian agreement, teachers start with an annual salary of $72,000, which is $108,000 for the most experienced teachers and $118,000 for leading teachers and learning specialists. Principals earn between $147,000 and $224,000. The meeting took place during a so-called «week of action» that the union had requested after the previous employment contract expired, which was whipped in 2017 (see «Australian Education Union announces fake `week of action` on Victorian teachers` work agreement»).
Few teachers were aware of this union initiative and less than 400 of the more than 50,000 AEU members in Victoria attended Wednesday`s online meeting. A recent online meeting convened by the AEU showed the union`s willingness to push through once again an agreement that does nothing to address the workload crisis and the deterioration of the public education system (see: «The Australian Education Union`s undemocratic public meeting highlights the danger of a new sold-out industrial agreement»). Goodwill between the two sides remains, but the union is frustrated that the government has not made a formal offer despite 50 bargaining sessions starting in December – the equivalent of about seven per month – and the existing company agreement, which expires in April. Education Secretary James Merlino said, «We will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement for our hard-working faculty.» A long-standing problem among educators is their unbearable workload. In 2017, Victorian AEU president Meredith Peace said the deal negotiated between the union and the state government at the time would begin to overcome what she saw as an «overwhelming workload.» She urged ES teachers and staff to vote for the deal because it was a «big victory» for members. The Australian Education Union (AEU) in Victoria is currently negotiating with the state Labour government on the salaries and working conditions of public school teachers and education support (ES) staff for the next three years. For the first time in a generation, we have a draft agreement that takes significant steps in terms of workload and contracts. Calling these discussions «negotiations» is misleading if this is to be interpreted as a kind of adversarial impasse involving opposing parties. In reality, the AEU is complicit with the state government, working against teachers and school staff. Peace began his report on contract negotiations not by talking about the government`s response to the union`s demand protocol – which contains various wage and labor demands that the union has no intention of fighting for – but by responding to new demands from the Ministry of Education. The form and content of the event underscored the AEU`s collaboration with Prime Minister Daniel Andrews` state government and its willingness to help draft and implement a new agreement that further worsens the conditions for teachers and school staff in the crisis-ridden public education system.
Other issues are related to workload. Peace admitted that the discussions were more «general» than anything that included specific proposals to reduce face-to-face time. An «index model» was disseminated, possibly involving a trade-off between the number of classes and classroom instruction. This is a betrayal formula – the bureaucracy is already signaling its willingness to abandon the demand for a maximum of 18 hours per week face-to-face and the upper limit for the class size of 20 students. «We plan every part of the session according to our teaching model. Some schools have set up ongoing reports. Instead of writing reports twice a year, we were asked to upload evaluation messages every two weeks, including comments and columns, to let parents know where their children are. I work most nights from eight to six o`clock and I always bring work home one evening and on weekends. It was the only way to do everything.
The union also called on the Andrews government to reduce face-to-face classes from the current 22 and a half hours in elementary school and 20 hours in high school to 18 hours per week. Get news and information about the fight against the dangerous reopening of schools. .