Reporters for the World Socialist Website spoke to teachers at a protest in Sydney on Wednesday called by the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation (NSWTF).
The event was a pathetic morning rally, with no industrial action. Of the tens of thousands of public school teachers in Australia’s largest city, only two to three hundred participated.
The protest was preceded by a video from the NSWTF, in which its president Angelo Gavrielatos signaled that the union would do nothing if the pro-business Industrial Relations Commission imposed the real wage cuts demanded by the Liberal Coalition government- national government (see: ‘Australian Teachers’ Union leader concedes to government pay-cut offensive’).
The union is seeking to turn the protracted dispute over a new industrial deal into an election campaign for a Labor state government, although Labor has an identical position to the Coalition on the need for pay cuts, austerity budget and the entrenchment of intolerable working conditions.
WSWS reporters have stressed the need for workers to fight union plans of betrayal by forming rank-and-file independent committees, aimed at uniting all teachers and education personnel, as well as other sections of the working class, in a real political and industrial one. struggle against the bipartisan austerity offensive.
Karen explained: “I teach at a school in western Sydney. We are ready to fight, ready to do more. It would be nice to unite with other workers like paramedics, nurses, teachers and railway workers. All together would be great.
“Our students currently have so many needs that we don’t have the support services we need. There are children who have speech problems, behavior problems, medical problems. We are expected to organize an individual program with each child. But there’s only one of us in a class of 30 kids. We do our best, but there are simply no specialized staff to help you.
“We have children who are so violent that they hit and kick staff every day. There is nothing we can do about it.
“Then there are all the meetings we attend, the online trainings we have to take and which are increasing all the time. Each time a new program comes out, you have to start over. And we have no resources given to us. We have to do everything ourselves.
“Before, we weren’t drowning in paperwork and ticking boxes for the good of the government. Every time we teach something, we’re supposed to mark down the changes we’ve made. It would be like a surgeon stopping in the middle of an operation to say “I changed the procedure” while the patient was bleeding to death. You must constantly change the way you teach according to the needs of the children. Recording everything is madness.
“The relief we get with a new program is absolute rubbish. It says “Look what we’re doing to help you”, but it’s not helping at all.
“I spend at least three hours every night working. Weekends are the same, correction, programming, production of work units, report writing, data entry.
Another teacher said, “I’m here today because the teachers are overwhelmed. We simply have too many things to do and not enough time in the day to do them. And the pay is not enough. We all love our job but it is becoming more and more difficult to live and do our best for the children.
“This national day of action is better than nothing, but I would like to see more done. We had strikes, but I don’t think that’s enough for the government to listen. We should do more. There are so few people here today because after that you have to go back to work. We need a proper strike.
Asked about the teachers’ needs, the worker said: ‘What we need is additional relief from face-to-face teaching so that we have time to provide quality content when we are in class. The number of hours we have in a day is simply not enough to provide quality education. Also higher salary. I wouldn’t be happy with a salary increase of 3.5% per year, that’s not even in line with inflation. »
Workload pressures had a huge impact on teachers’ lives, he said. “A normal workday for me involves waking up at 6am and then getting ready for work for about an hour, basically doing everything I didn’t do the night before. I eat something if I have time, then I teach. Back home at 4 p.m., if I’m lucky. Then when I’m at home, I prepare the lessons for the next day. Then after dinner prepare more stuff and maybe take an hour off and go to bed around 11 or 12. Then repeat the next day.
“In class, it can sometimes be difficult. There are not enough resources, not enough staff, not enough material for the students.
Tareq said: “Teacher salaries are losing their competitiveness. This is an important question. The workload for many teachers is heavy, and with families trying to manage things, it’s a really tough time.
“I don’t like strikes because we lack wages. But I would support it. If you go on strike for three or four days a year, that’s 2% of your income, which is essentially the salary increase.
Like other unions, the NSWTF does not pay strike pay, although it does hold substantial resources, partly from dues levied on members. Asked about it, Tareq said:
“I paid for an occasional subscription, like $12 a week. It’s $600 a year. Strike pay would pay for a day and a half of my salary. I never even thought of it personally. They could probably offer something considering you are paying a lot.
“It would be nice to get some encouragement. Support you because you support them every week financially. It adds up. Let’s say there are 20,000 members. Some teachers, like full-time employees, pay over a thousand dollars a year.
Tareq works as a casual in “quite a lot of schools” and said that “if you’re a secondary school teacher and you teach outside of a subject, it’s really, really difficult. Many teachers supervise large groups.
“Most casual teachers just want this permanent position. Instead, we get temporary contracts and do good work. Casuals arrive at 7 a.m. daily. They must have permanence. They shouldn’t worry about losing their job, that their job might just end.
“The directors make the decision to pull the plug. This happens often. And it happened to me even this year, even with shortages. Schools promised me jobs earlier in the year, then they pulled me out.
“Teachers shouldn’t worry about not having a job or that the rapport they’ve developed with the students will just be thrown out the window. You can’t throw anyone into a classroom. It takes time.”