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Teachers strike as pay offer revealed to be 'middling' at best

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South Australian teachers would be among the worst-paid in the country if they were to accept the current pay rise offered by the State Government, the head of the Education Department has revealed.

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Speaking at a Budget and Finance Committee hearing this morning, Education Department chief executive Rick Persse said under the deal put forward by the Government, teachers working at a Step 9 band level would receive the third lowest salary compared to similar-ranked teachers interstate.

The State Government has offered teachers a 2.35 per cent annual salary increase, as well as other allowances under the ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations with the Australian Education Union.

Persse said under that deal, graduate teachers and baseline principals would rank fourth in the country for wages, while top-level principals would rank fifth.

The revelations came as thousands of teachers this morning protested outside Parliament House and at sites in Whyalla, Port Lincoln and Mt Gambier over concerns the Government’s offer does not go far enough.

About 250 schools across the state have closed today as a result of the teacher strike, with Persse telling this morning’s hearing about 57 per cent of classes would not be impacted by the protests.

The union, which has rejected the 2.35 pay rise, said strike action was not taken lightly.

“We think that is too important to compromise,” the union said in a statement.

Persse said the teacher rankings would improve by May 1, 2020, with Step 9 teachers expected to rise to fifth position, graduate teachers to rise to second, base principals to rise to third and top-level principals to rise to fifth.

When questioned by the committee chair and Labor MP Kyam Maher about where the teachers would sit on the national leader board if they accepted the current offer, Persse said they would sit “around the middle”.

“I accept that I would like to pay all of my teachers and principals well,” he said.

“The issue is… should we be factoring in the same cost of living as we would Sydney?

“If we want to be at the top of every table, you do need to factor in other issues such as cost of living.”

Persse said the negotiations considered market forces and cost of living pressures when determining pay increases.

But he said he was not privy to the enterprise negotiations with the union as that responsibility fell under the Department for Treasury and Finance.

When questioned about whether the current deal offered by the State Government was covered in the Education Department’s budget, the department’s chief operating officer Julieann Riedstra said she was not sure where the money would come from.

“We’ve got an approval from the cabinet and that’s been put on the table – I’d need to check how the cabinet has budgeted for it,” she said.

“I’m sure it’s probably accounted for – I don’t know.”

Persse said his Department was hoping that the enterprise bargaining process, which started late last year, would end “as soon as possible”.

SA branch president of the AEU, Howard Spreadbury, told the Adelaide rally the Government’s offer wasn’t good enough.

“It needs to come back, be revised and we’ll have another look at that and see if it’s ready for acceptance,” he said.

Spreadbury said a substandard agreement would have a detrimental impact on education outcomes for students, and teachers should not have to compensate for a funding shortfall.

“We can’t keep running a public education system just on your goodwill,” he said.

“It requires resources and it requires commitment from the State Government to invest appropriately at all levels of public education to make this state the great state.”

Fulham North Primary School teacher Heather McDonald, who has worked in the public education system for more than 30 years, wants smaller class sizes and more respect for teachers.

“I am absolutely over children not having enough room to work and if we increase class sizes, particularly for the junior primaries, they’re not going to have enough,” she said.

“The children in our state deserve better.”

She said many teachers were underpaid and exhausted but persevered for the sake of their students.

“I had two 14-hour days this week and I’m almost 60, and I can’t keep doing it,” she said.

“I’m here because I love my job and I love my students but we can’t keep doing it like this anymore.

“We need respect and we need support to do our jobs well.”

– with AAP

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