Thousands of educators in Victoria are being urged by the Australian Education Union (AEU) to vote ‘Yes’ to another sell-out deal with the Andrews State Labor government.
The Committee on Public Instruction (CFPE) has called for a “No” vote, calling the deal a “monstrous betrayal”, after decades of betrayals with the Labor and Liberal governments.
Unlike the barrage of union pressure, the deal is a real pay cut for the majority of teachers, provides little to deal with appalling workloads, and deepens the long and growing assault on public schools and school tenure. jobs amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.
The union hopes the teachers have no recollection or knowledge of previous agreements. AEU President Meredith Peace falsely claims the union negotiated a “historic” achievement. Similar claims have been made with all other agreements.
Desperate to close the deal, the AEU launched a disinformation campaign to bury the true details of its sale. This has been accompanied by the censorship and removal of opposition posts on the union’s Facebook page and the push for “Yes” votes in undemocratic and bureaucratically run delegates’ meetings.
A brief history of the AEU’s record demonstrates that the union will accept and cooperate with the government in power, as long as it remains a partner, controlling government demands and defending its own privileges.
In 2003, the Victorian Labor government commissioned the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to design a series of ‘master plans’ for education. Corporate-led “master plans” aimed to increase teacher productivity through performance benchmarks, targeting “underperformance” of schools and teachers and a “regime of continuous improvements”. This corporatist model of “education reform” was embedded in the 2004, 2008 and 2013 agreements and deepened via the Bracks review in the 2017 agreement.
The Victorian Government Schools Agreement (VGSA) 2004 pledged to “have performance and development,” waived specific caps on class size, and sanctioned an explosion in the proportion of contract teaching positions. It stipulated: “The parties agree that the standard method of use in the teaching service will be maintained. However, the parties recognize that some term or casual employment will continue to be required.
It was a green light to increase the number of teachers on precarious short-term contracts. The same clause exists in the 2022 agreement, providing loopholes for principals not to transfer teachers permanently. Precariousness is now a perpetual feature, with some teachers having been on contract for more than 10 years. The 2004 class size clause has not changed for almost 20 years.
The 2008 agreement was signed after months of clandestine negotiations. He saw AEU President Mary Bluett on the Age the front page of the newspaper embracing Prime Minister John Brumby and hailing the deal as the “best achieved in 25 years”.
The union’s initial demands were for a 30% pay rise over three years, 20 students per class and permanent positions for contract teachers. Brumby offered a 3.25% pay deal with anything above that tied to productivity tradeoffs. This was endorsed by Education Minister Bronwyn Pike who demanded that teachers pay their pay rises by giving up a week’s annual leave for school planning.
The agreement did not address any of the teachers’ main demands. Instead, first-grade teachers and above received a nominal pay increase that barely matched the official inflation rate, while everyone else took a significant real pay cut. It also introduced a new classification of the main “executive class”. It was the way to smuggle in a form of performance pay aligned with school goals and data, later described as the school’s strategic and annual implementation plan.
The 2013 agreement was negotiated with the Liberal Baillieu government, which demanded a salary cap of 2.5% for civil servants. Without any discussion with its members, the AEU lowered the wage demand from 30 to 12% over three years.
After 18 months of negotiations, three all-day strikes across the state and mass meetings attended by thousands of teachers, Meredith Peace announced, via the media, a “historic achievement” of 16 to 20 % salary increase. The contents of the deal were only released a week after it was announced.
In fact, the “historic” salary increase was based on the inclusion of additional salary increases that most teachers receive automatically as they gain seniority. Excluding incremental increases, actual wage increases were between 2.75 and 3%, barely in line with inflation.
The agreement also included an “unsatisfactory performance” category, a new mechanism for the Education Department to expedite the firing of teachers within 13 weeks. Its inclusion was hailed as a “victory” by union officials.
“Priority status” for teachers appointed “in excess” was removed, forcing them to compete with graduates for jobs. It was a means of weeding out older, more experienced staff, who generally earned higher salaries. The 2013 deal was the last time Victorian educators went on strike.
In 2017, the AEU signed a VGSA deal with Andrews’ Labor government before teachers had seen or even read the 50-page document. The union has not organized any mass meetings, work stoppages, strikes or work stoppages. The deal was announced just days before teachers were due to vote for protected action and on the eve of a holiday break.
President Peace told the media that the agreement would resolve “crushing workloads”, cynically describing it as “a great victory for our members”. And like today, the AEU removed the opposition comments from its Facebook page.
The agreement included no back pay, the equivalent of a pay freeze between October 2015 and April 2017, and ensured teachers remained at or near the bottom of the pay scale compared to other Australian states. Additionally, Victoria remained the lowest state for government funding per student, $2,253 less than the national average.
Sixty-five percent of graduate teachers had short-term contracts during their first five years of employment and there were no changes in face-to-face teaching or class sizes. The agreement also provided for a grossly inadequate Professional Practice Day (PPD), one day per term from scheduled duties. If the AEU succeeds in pushing through the 2022 agreement, the PPDs will be systematically eliminated.
The AEU also agreed in 2017 to further link “teacher performance” to department priorities, school improvement and student data, such as NAPLAN with online performance reviews, including class observations, monitored by education department officials.
The union’s reward for these decades-long betrayals has been to entrench itself further in school structures through onboarding processes for new employees, freeing up time for union representatives on advisory boards, paid time off for union state advisers and union training courses and top salaries for the full-time bureaucrats.
As educators struggle to make ends meet amid rising inflation, AEU President Meredith Peace and Secretary of State Erin Aulich each receive an annual salary of $222,908, not including others non-monetary benefits.
Educators should carefully consider the AEU’s betrayal record. The union is directly involved in the government’s assault on the salaries and working conditions of teachers and public education as a whole.
In addition to its record of betrayal, the AEU has collaborated tirelessly with the government’s response to COVID-19, fully endorsing the dangerous reopening of schools and putting the lives and health of teachers and students in grave danger.
Teachers must take matters into their own hands, vote ‘No’ to the latest rotten deal and form independent rank-and-file committees in schools. This must become the starting point for a coordinated political campaign in defense of the public education system as a whole and the rights and conditions of educators and school staff within the system.
What is needed above all is a political struggle based on a socialist perspective. The debt-ridden Victorian Labor government, backed to the hilt by the union, is determined to defend the interests of big business at the expense of working people. Teachers must reach out to their colleagues in other states and abroad, who face very similar attacks, to fight for a society based on social need, not profit, in which a free education and high quality is a fundamental right.
Join the Facebook group opposing the deal: “Oppose Australian Education Union 2022 VGSA draft agreement!”