Teachers across Queanbeyan strike for change

Kelly Bowman and Wendy Leed of the NSW Teachers Federation at Karabar High School. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Kelly Bowman and Wendy Leed of the NSW Teachers Federation at Karabar High School. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Kelly Bowman has been a full-time teacher since 1986, during this time she has seen many changes but the most notable was an "astronomical increase in the workload".

Ms Bowman is one of thousands of teachers across NSW who went on strike on Tuesday.

This was the first time educators and the NSW Teachers Federation have gone on strike in a decade with demands including a 5 to 7.5 per cent wage increase and an extra two hours a week non-teaching time.

The have also protested "chronic" staff shortages in schools round the country.

The Karabar High School federation representative said industrial action was "not something we want to do, we have been forced into this situation by a government that doesn't seem to listen or care".

"We've done everything we can to try to negotiate for 18 months," she said.

"The [NSW] government thinks they can just keep banking on our goodwill."

Ms Bowman said there was "a chronic teacher shortage" across schools with "stagnant wages" and a high workload "unattractive to high achieving graduates".

For the teacher, a contributing factor to fewer people choosing the profession was "the kids we teach seeing us as running ragged everyday".

"This has an impact on the kids we teach."

She said when educators were away students were "farmed out to different grades" and she was often required to teach kids with disabilities, a skill outside of her formal training.

The visual arts teacher also taught a year 7 math class one year, she said the students deserved a trained mathematics teacher.

She said teaching vacancies across NSW had doubled since June 2021.

Ms Bowman said across schools in Queanbeyan two head teachers had left within two years, a deputy principal had left the profession after one year and two mid-career math teachers were leaving in 2022.

"People are not seeing a future in teaching," she said.

Meanwhile, NSW Education secretary Georgina Harrisson argued all organisations had vacancies and the vacancy rate for teachers was at a low level.

"The federation has made a number of claims in the lead up to this action that are misleading or simply untrue," she said.

"A vacancy in a school is covered by a casual or temporary teacher and does not mean a class is without a teacher.

"We are preparing to manage any future challenges of teacher supply, which is why we commissioned research to understand the issue and developed a strategy to address it. Because it does not align with the federation's demands does not mean it will not be successful."

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Teachers Federation Queanbeyan organiser Waine Donovan said teachers across the state were "buckling under the pressure".

"Teachers deserve more than thanks," he said.

"We are over it, teachers are not being treated with respect by the government or their employer.

"Kids are going to miss out on far more than one day of school if this continues, it's disgraceful stuff."

Mr Donovan said the teacher shortage made educators "feel obliged not to to take sick leave because no one can replace them".

"If we win we will have more permanent jobs in our schools, we need to raise the status of the profession."

He said the NSW government was "hell bent on discrediting the Teachers Federation" and "contemptuous of teachers". Mr Donovan felt casual teachers were "taken advantage of by the department of education".

Ms Harrison had called on the federation and its members to comply with a Industrial Relations Commission's (IRC) order and not strike.

"The department is still negotiating with the federation on their claims and the place for this is in the IRC," she said.

"The federation needs to come back to the table and engage in good faith with the negotiating process.

"We recognise the tremendous work teachers have done during the pandemic and want to make sure they do not miss out on money in hand by delivering them a pay raise in the first week of January ahead of whatever the IRC decides in May."

Ms Harrisson said the Department had applied for the 2.5 per cent increase staff are entitled to meaning they will not miss out on a pay rise.

This is the maximum amount currently allowed per annum under the Industrial Relations Act.

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This story Queanbeyan teachers strike over 'stagnant wages' and staff shortages first appeared on The Canberra Times.