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Schools shutdown looms as union pursues strike ballot

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Schools across the state could be hit by a half-day teachers’ strike next week, with the SA Education Union balloting its members to gauge support for the shutdown.

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Union state president Howard Spreadbury confirmed to InDaily that members were being balloted, but refused to elaborate, even on the reasons why the industrial action was being considered.

“I’m not going to comment at this stage,” he said.

“We’ll put something out when it’s determined.”

State schools and preschools, though, have confirmed the possibility of a half-day strike on the morning of next Thursday, November 29.

If it goes ahead, it’s understood to be the first stand-alone teachers’ strike since 2008 – and only the second since the previous Liberal government.

The move follows last month’s after-school-hours protest outside the Education Department, during which the union accused the Liberal Government of a “lack of respect” during ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations.

At the time, Spreadbury told media: “This is the first stage of what will become a very serious campaign if the State Government doesn’t take notice, doesn’t come back to the table and say, ‘We want to put more things on the table’.”

The ballot process will not close until 4pm next Monday, which means parents won’t know till Tuesday week whether they have to make alternative arrangements.

A letter from schools to parents today said that should the strike go ahead, “the impact this action will have on program delivery at individual schools and preschools will vary depending on the number of members taking industrial action”.

Schools could yet remain open, with either their usual education programs or a modified agenda, or close for the day or half-day.

We think it’s way too pre-emptive… it’s more a knee-jerk reaction that there’s a Liberal Government

Treasurer Rob Lucas, who is responsible for enterprise bargaining negotiations, said “from a Government viewpoint, we can’t understand” what’s prompted the ballot.

“Really it’s a question for the union,” he said, arguing his September budget locked in a $515 million increase in recurrent schools funding by 2021-22, as well as significantly more money in the longer term under a new Commonwealth agreement.

“It’s for the AEU to explain to the public and their members why they’d be seeking to inconvenience parents and students when there are massive increases in education funding going in,” he said.

“They can’t claim – or complain – there’s been cuts in state education funding.”

He said discussions with the union were ongoing, but did not detail the Government’s wage offer – or the union’s demands – adding that “at this stage I’m not aware they’ve put it on the table”.

Rather, he said, the negotiations have been around issues such as “more time for preparation, more support in the classroom, those sorts of things”, and that at a meeting “two or three weeks ago” the Treasurer invited the union to come back with efficiency suggestions for the department.

“We think it’s way too pre-emptive,” he said of the mooted strike.

“It’s more a knee-jerk reaction that there’s a Liberal Government, and maybe there’s an expectation that they should be protesting [but] I think they’re struggling to find rational grounds to justify a half-day industrial action, given there’s massive increases in taxpayer-funded spending going into schools as well as massive increases in capital spending.”

The union’s push to intensify its campaign comes as Education Minister John Gardner today spruiked the Government’s push to establish five specialist entrepreneurial schools, one more than the four pledged before the March state election.

Banksia Park International, Seaton, Heathfield, Murray Bridge and Mount Gambier High Schools will boast specialist business skills pathways, with more than $6.3 million over four years allocated to resources, specialist staff and support engagement with business and industry.

“We want to be the incubator for a new generation that sees entrepreneurialism not as something that a few people do, but as a way of working and thinking that everyone can utilise,” Gardner said in a statement.

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