Monday, September 1, 2008

Teachers’ Stoppage Punishes Parents

Nobody likes a teachers’ strike. It causes great inconvenience to parents, great disruption to students, and generally doesn’t achieve a great deal. And yet, the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation appears to have no hesitation in calling a stop work meeting when push comes to shove. Given the unpopularity of such action I have to wonder whether it helps or harms the Union’s cause.

This week’s stoppage is about pay levels, and about the plan to allow individual schools to conduct their own recruiting outside the transfer system. These are legitimate concerns and deserve some attention. First, the pay claim. Teachers are seeking a pay increase of 16% over three years, which is ahead of inflation, but below executive remuneration growth, as well as well below the increases for politicians and senior public servants.

The Government insists that teachers, like other public sector employees such as firemen, nurses, and police should have their pay increases capped at 2.5% per annum, well below inflation and in reality a pay cut in real terms. It’s easy to see why teachers, like the firemen, police and nurses, are insulted by the offer. What makes it worse however is that the Government insists that any increase above the 2.5% must be tied to productivity gains.

This might make sense in manufacturing or retail, but how on earth can teachers deliver productivity gains? Do they squeeze more students into each class? Do they score points for every straight A student? It is a complete and utter nonsense because teaching is not an industry, at least not in the same way that a production line is.

Further to that is the frustration that teachers might start out with a decent salary at the beginning of their careers, but after a few years the income levels out and there is little opportunity for advancement. There are very complicated issues of performance assessment and benchmarking that are a part of this debate, but the bottom line is simple to understand: the present structure amounts to what might be described as a dead end.

The question of sidestepping the transfer system also deserves debate. If schools in remote or undesirable locations can’t get teachers, obviously the standard of education available to students in those towns will be under threat. The Government insists that this will not be the case, but the Teachers Federation disagrees. At the moment, there is no debate or negotiation on this point, with the Government simply insisting that its plan should go ahead.

While I can see the legitimacy of these concerns, I wonder if that’s what Mum and Dad will be thinking if they have to miss a day of work because they can’t find anyone to look after the kids. Probably not. But the real question is will they blame the Union or the Government for this stalemate?

No comments: