The Australian Education Union in Victoria announced on Monday that its proposed industrial deal with the state’s Labor government was opposed by 39.3% of voters at delegate meetings. This represents record opposition registered against the AEU’s four-year industrial agreements.
For the last regressive agreement in 2017, 18% of delegates voted “no”, less than half the current result. On this year’s delegate votes—assigned to schools on a one-for-20 union membership—1,272 were in favor and 823 against. The ‘no’ vote was higher in Melbourne than in rural and regional areas, and even higher in the city’s most working-class areas.
The AEU tries to present the agreement as being currently in force. Under the national industrial relations regime, however, an agreement must receive a majority vote in a separate ballot, which has not yet taken place, of each individual covered by the agreement, whether unionized or not. Teachers and school workers are expected to vote ‘no’, with the fight to defeat the deal being the first step in developing a unified counter-offensive for decent wages and conditions and a well-funded public education system. adequate resources.
The opposition registered at the 29-delegate meetings over the past three weeks reflects the depth of hostility to the deal to sell overworked and underpaid educators and school staff in the beleaguered public education system. crisis in conditions of spreading COVID in schools. Significantly, this demonstrates opposition to both the AEU and the state Labor government of Prime Minister Daniel Andrews.
Central to the proposed deal is a substantial reduction in real wages. Teachers and school staff already suffered a 12-month wage freeze last year, due to the expiry of the previous agreement in 2020 and the failure to backdate the current proposed agreement before January . Over the next four years, the AEU and the state Labor government are trying to impose nominal wage increases of just 1% every six months, with the first of these applying annually for six months. of work, which is in fact 0.5% plus 1% annual increase.
There are some minor additional payments through the annual “bonus” that do not accrue with teacher base salaries and salary increase changes. This does not change the fact, however, that the agreement reduces real wages. The cost of living is currently rising, with rising international oil prices affecting transport, electricity, food and other basic necessities. Housing costs have increased in double digit percentages every year for the past few years.
For many educators, the prospect of a real pay cut was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It came after two years of difficult pandemic working conditions, including hastily requested and insufficiently supported remote learning, followed by the premature and reckless and dangerous reopening of schools imposed by the AEU in the midst of the community transmission of COVID-19. This has led to thousands of educators and students being infected with COVID-19, with 18,825 students and 1,934 educators infected in the first two weeks of this term.
The public education system was already in crisis before the pandemic hit, with schools, especially those in working-class communities, starved of needed resources and staff, while successive Labor and Liberal governments funneled huge funds public to private schools.
The AEU was only able to secure its 59.7% majority in the delegates’ vote through a calculated disinformation campaign.
After blocking industrial action and refusing to hold a mass meeting during negotiations with the state Labor government, the union bureaucracy declared on February 4 that it had won a “historic agreement”, on the basis that face-to-face teaching hours would be reduced by one and a half hours per week for the duration of the agreement. The AEU seemed to have planned accolades for this. In fact, the measure was abused by teachers. Various concessions were agreed to by the union to offset state government costs, including a gradual reduction in “professional practice days”, i.e. the time allotted to teachers to concentrate on non-work. educational, from four days a year to just one.
Nothing has been done to reduce the huge administrative and standardized testing workload that has led to increased unpaid overtime and widespread stress and burnout.
The AEU bureaucracy mobilized the union’s resources to ram the agreement through. This included glossy “vote yes” posters sent to schools and op-eds written in favor in union publications mailed to AEU members, with no space provided for opponents of the deal. The union quickly deleted and blocked the comments on its Facebook page to prevent any discussion between teachers and school staff.
At a “briefing” held before the delegates’ meetings – at which no one but AEU officials were allowed to speak, union secretary of state Erin Aulich (salary annual and $246,000 benefits) falsely insisted that social media censorship was aimed at blocking “trolls” violating union page protocols. Similar misinformation and censorship dominated the delegates’ meetings themselves. Union officials dominated the discussion from start to finish, with individual opponents of the deal only allowed three minutes to speak.
The close result of the delegates’ vote clearly alarmed the AEU bureaucracy. State of the Union President Meredith Peace (annual salary and benefits $244,000) sent a lengthy email to AEU members on Monday about the outcome. She said in bold: ‘Now that union members have approved the tentative agreement, every member must support the majority position taken by the members and vote YES for the agreement in the all-employee ballot.’
This is wrong – no teacher or school worker “must” vote yes. All persons affected by the proposed agreement, whether they are unionized or not, have the possibility and the responsibility to examine the situation and form their own opinion.
The AEU is facing a growing number of member resignations, with letters from teachers describing the behavior of union officials as “undemocratic, ‘bullying’ and using “outrageous strong arm tactics”. In response, the AEU contacted school branches to offer to attend branch meetings Desperate to quell opposition, and fearing a “no” vote from other workers, union bureaucrats proposed to delegates to call meetings inviting non-members, in the purpose of explaining why they should vote “yes” and enrolling new members.
Pseudo-left organizations have lined up behind the AEU, refusing to advocate a “no” vote in the upcoming statewide poll on the grounds that “union democracy” must be respected. This reflects the pseudo-left’s complicity with the AEU bureaucracy. As far as “trade union democracy” is concerned, what does not exist cannot be respected. The AEU has flouted basic democratic standards in its fight for a pay cut deal, and educators and school workers have every right to rescind the deal.
An alternative point of view
In fighting for the rejection of the proposed agreement, teachers and school workers must embark on a new course. All efforts to put pressure on the AEU bureaucracy have repeatedly proved a miserable failure – what is needed is a new political perspective. This was only advanced by the Committee for Public Instruction, which led the fight for a “no” vote.
As we said in our February 7 statement: “This opposition must now be organized and politically directed. The Committee for Public Instruction (CFPE) urges the formation of rank-and-file committees in every school, independent of the AEU. They must get in touch, exchange precise information on the draft agreement as well as on the situation in the schools, in particular on the COVID-19 crisis. Any effort by the union to stifle and censor discussion must be resisted. The closest links must be made with teachers in Australia and around the world who have entered the struggle.
The statement continued: “The struggle against the agreement is above all a political struggle. Decent wages and working conditions cannot be guaranteed under conditions of massive COVID-19 infection, nor amid the continued breakdown of the public education system. Teachers, education support staff, students and families must fight to develop the broadest movement against the entire political establishment, reach out to other sections of the working class facing similar attacks and, on this basis, establish the social right for every child to receive the highest quality public education, provided free of charge and the social right of every educator to receive the salaries, conditions and resources necessary to be able to do its working properly.
“This program is incompatible with an education system subordinated to the market and the dictates of big business. The entire political establishment, Labour, Liberal and other parliamentary parties, serve the interests of big business and the ultra-rich. Teachers and other workers must turn to a socialist and internationalist perspective which seeks to exploit the enormous productive capacities and technological resources of the global economy in the interests of the social needs of the vast majority, rather than in the interests close quarters of a few rich. ”
We urge all educators and school workers to fight for the broadest “no” vote in the national ballot and to contact CFPE to advance the necessary political fight.
Contact the CFPE today: