Union Suspends Industrial Action by Teachers at NSW & ACT Catholic Schools

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
27 Apr 2015

Catholic teachers went on strike in Newcastle-Hunter region on June 26 when the Union threatened more rolling strikes across NSW and ACT

The Independent Education Union (IEU) has suspended industrial action that had been planned for tomorrow, Tuesday 28 April. The all-day strike would have forced the closure of Catholic systemic primary and secondary schools in NSW and the ACT and affected as many as 200,000 students.

"We welcome the cancellation of industrial action which we know will be appreciated by all school communities in NSW as well as in the ACT," Anthony Farley, Executive Director of the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) said this morning.

For more than 12 months the CCER and the Union have been negotiating a new Enterprise Agreement. The negotiations that began in April last year have been marked by industrial action and a series of rolling strikes that have disrupted  classes at hundreds of the State's Catholic primary and secondary schools.

However 12 months of negotiations, the offer of settlement put forward by the CCER at a meeting with the Union on Wednesday, 22 April received a positive response and resulted in IEU general secretary for NSW, John Gressy calling off the strike.

Anthony Farley, Executive Director, Catholic Commission for Employment Relations

"The Union considers there is sufficient basis for a suspension of the projected industrial action on Tuesday, 28 April, although not all matters are resolved," he posted on the Union website four days before the planned strike, adding that members as well as schools had been informed of the decision.

One of the most recent sticking points for the Union in its negotiations over the new Enterprise Agreement had been a clause requiring teachers and support staff at Catholic schools to be supportive of the mission, teachings and values of the Catholic Church.

"What was proposed was entirely consistent with arrangements already in place," Anthony Farley said at the time, pointing out that respect and support for the Catholic ethos was a mandatory requirement for all those employed at Catholic institutions, organisations, hospitals, universities and charities.

"Not being a Catholic does not mean you cannot be supportive of Catholic values," he said pointing out that the 20,000 staff at Catholic schools across the State came from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures, political views and other religious faiths, and in some cases no faith at all.

He also pointed out that 58,000 or a quarter of all students enrolled at Catholic schools were from non-Catholic households.

58000 or one quarter of all students at Catholic schools in NSW and ACT are from non Catholic families

This clause in the Agreement has now been agreed to by both sides and while there are minor matters still to be agreed, it is understood that the final terms of settlement will be put to the vote within the next few weeks.

"The Union does not disagree to the proposed CCER clause on Catholic ethos, in particular in reference to the ability for employers to put different provisions in letters of appointment and policies," the Union posted on its website late last Friday.

With today's schools very different places from those of previous generations, CCER's proposed Enterprise Agreement became one of the first in Australia to take advances in technology, IT learning, social media and other factors into account, as well as the changing role of teachers and the way classes and subjects are taught.

From the start of negotiations in April 2014, Anthony Farley acknowledged that the draft proposal for the new Enterprise Agreement was not only a whole new approach and that this could trigger a uncertainty among teachers and support staff.

New Enterprise Agreement for teachers and staff of Catholic Schools addresses challenges of teaching in the 21st Century

However he insisted that the initial draft was just that, and consultation was all important and that nothing was off the table.

Unhappy and uncertain over the new approach, the IEU staged a series of rolling strikes in Sydney, the Hunter Valley, Canberra and Goulburn, Wollongong and the other dioceses across the State.

But this week it seems the year-long negotiations are almost over.

"Catholic employers have provided the IEU with comprehensive terms of settlement which we believe will be supported by staff," Anthony Farley said this morning adding that the CCER looked forward to concluding the process so the agreement could be put to a vote and pay increases provided to staff as soon as possible.