THE region’s Catholic school teachers have failed to rule out further industrial action in their ongoing protest against a proposed new workplace agreement.
Teachers from 22 schools across the Armidale diocese stopped work for three hours yesterday morning over a proposal they maintain erodes their current conditions, diminishes the value of support staff and threatens the quality of education for students.
A stopwork meeting at the Tamworth Town Hall was attended by about 150 teachers and support staff, while 60 union members turned out in Armidale’s Central Park.
Armidale organiser for the Independent Education Union Sandra White said other meetings were held at schools in Gunnedah, Inverell, Narrabri, Moree and Mungindi.
Ms White said those at the meetings signed a petition calling on the state’s Catholic school employers to start listening to staff concerns, and those at the Armidale meeting marching to the Armidale Catholic schools office to present their document.
She said it was now up to employers how they proceeded, saying teachers and support staff were committed to the protest campaign, although no consideration was given to further stopwork action at yesterday’s meetings.
Staff at the regional rallies were angry the proposed agreement flagged changes to the likes of sick leave and lunch breaks, pay rates for support staff, class size restrictions and time for lesson preparation.
A new, lower salary scale for future support staff had caused particular concern, Ms White said, existing staff arguing it was an insult to the vital assistance they provided teachers.
She said if employers were serious about resolving the crisis, they should begin their negotiations with the current agreement rather than starting with an entirely new document.
“Start listening to what we’re saying ... and stop being dismissive about our concerns,” Ms White said.
The union’s assistant secretary Mark Northam, who addressed the Tamworth meeting, said negotiations should “commence with what you’ve got and if they need to evolve and change, then so be it”.
The union and employers are due back to the negotiating table next week.
Catholic Commission for Employment Relations executive director Tony Farley said yesterday’s action was premature and they had always been open to negotiations.