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"Strong likelihood" school shutdown will take place: union

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Parents should start planning for a “likely” half-day teachers’ strike next Thursday, the head of the SA Education Union says.

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Union state president Howard Spreadbury said the strike, scheduled for next Thursday morning pending a member ballot, will be in response to what he described as “frustrating” and “disappointing” ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations with the State Government.

InDaily reported yesterday that union members were being balloted to gauge support for the shutdown.

When questioned yesterday on why the industrial action was being considered, Spreadbury refused to elaborate, telling InDaily the union would release more information “when it’s determined”.

This morning he was more forthcoming, holding a press conference where he said the delay in notifying media and parents of the decision was because the union had not yet finalised its media strategy.

“What has changed since yesterday is that we have a media strategy that we were determining yesterday and so [that’s] what we’ve released today,” he said.

Spreadbury played down suggestions from reporters that the late notice provided to parents would be an inconvenience, saying the union had worked to communicate with schools and parents via its online channels.

He said there was a “strong likelihood” that the strike would take place, adding there was the potential for teachers at all 600 schools and 300 preschools across the state to take part in the industrial action.

“I think parents perhaps need to understand that the one half-day of inconvenience is far outweighed by long-term inconvenience in relation to lack of funding for their students in schools and preschools into next year and beyond,” he said.

“Some [schools] may be able to remain open, depending on the numbers of staff available to do so. That’s up to the school to determine how it would happen.”

Enterprise bargaining negotiations between the union and State Government began in May and have been fraught with tension, with the union last month accusing the Liberal Government of a “lack of respect”.

Spreadbury said today that next Thursday’s potential strike was in response to the State Government’s rejection of union requests to decrease class sizes, improve teacher permanency, improve incentives for teachers to work in the country and increase the number of student support staff.  

He said the union felt “betrayed” that the State Government had removed a document called “The Commitment” from the enterprise agreement. It had outlined previous governments’ commitments to provide “significant levels of resourcing to support the functioning of our schools and preschools on a daily basis”.

“For example, in our preschools our staffing levels are contained in ‘The Commitment’, in special schools additional resources is contained in ‘The Commitment’…the student-centred funding model, which is the per capita allocation of funding based on students, is in ‘The Commitment’.

“The Government has decided that they do not want to include any commitment to future funding and indexation of that funding in the future agreement.”

Spreadbury said the union had not yet received an offer from the State Government in relation to teacher pay.

The balloting process will continue until next Monday, after which the union will confirm whether the strike will go ahead.

If the ballot is successful, next Thursday’s strike is understood to be the first stand-alone teachers’ strike since 2008 – and only the second since the previous Liberal government.

Treasurer Rob Lucas, who is responsible for enterprise bargaining negotiations, told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that claims from the union that schools were losing funding were “factually wrong” and that the planned strike action was “crazy stuff”.

He criticised the union for “wanting to punish parents and students by doing it [the protest] in a way which maximises the disruption”, and questioned why the ballot had not been conducted earlier to allow parents more time to prepare for a strike.

Lucas added the Liberal Government was delivering a “record investment in education” – with State Budget papers showing recurrent annual funding for schools would increase by $515 million by 2021-22.

“Union bosses should be discussing with the Government the best ways to spend this massive increase in funding to positively impact student learning outcomes, rather than going on strike,’’ he said in a statement.

But Spreadbury said the union had doubts the Government would follow through with its funding promises.

“It’s a trust-us attitude,” he said.

“Our members know that we can’t always trust governments in the future to deliver the funding when they have the capacity to redirect that funding away from students and their learning outcomes away to other avenues.”

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