Teachers fight for better conditions

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Teachers fight for better conditions

The Australian Education Union (AEU) is negotiating with the State Government for an enterprise agreement that makes urgent improvements to the working conditions of educators.

The AEU visited the South East recently to brief community and union members about its campaign through forums held in Naracoorte and Mount Gambier.

In August last year the organisation travelled around South Australia speaking to members about what can be done to fix the teacher shortage crisis.

Australian Education Union SA branch president Andrew Gohl said essentially the AEU was reporting to their members about the concerns raised last year.

“Since that time in August we worked with University of South Australia to carry out the first ever survey into teachers’ working conditions in South Australia,” he said.

The findings in the survey ‘Teachers at Breaking Point’ published in November 2022 found that almost half of all respondents intend to leave teaching within five years (45.5%), double the rate recorded in 2018.

It also found teachers work well above the hours for which they are paid, and the proportion of teachers satisfied with their profession overall has almost halved since similar data was collected in 2018 (from 90% to 52.9%).

Mr Gohl said one of the biggest issues the AEU recognised was the workload of educators.

“The first thing we have negotiated with the government is to increase non instruction time so that teachers can finish the work off during the working day instead of taking work home, if not some weekends,” he said.

“We think that teachers should be able to complete their work in a working day, like everyone else.

“The government came back and said, ‘that’s going to cost you a billion dollars.’

“I said that’s really interesting because what that means is that education staff in South Australia are doing a billion dollars’ worth of unpaid work after hours.”

Mr Gohl said another part of the union’s platform was to have a School Services Officer (SSO) in every class to provide constant learning support for students, combating the lack of support within classrooms.

“One of the problems especially in country schools is it’s taking up to three years for someone to be assessed if they have a suspected learning difficulty,” he said.

“We think having a learning support SSO in the classroom waiting for that assessment to be done is a good way to support learning in that class, not just for that one person but for all students in the class.

“That idea by the way means that it can provide an opportunity for teacher undergraduates perhaps to come and do some work in a classroom as an SSO, which can help them sort of develop their thinking around teaching as well.

“They get a bit of classroom experience before they go out properly so that’s good to support those undergraduates because they’re our next generation and (we want to) support them as much as we can.”

Mr Gohl said another initiative of the AEU was to double country incentives to attract teachers to regional areas.

“We’re saying that country incentives should be increased like the dollar value in getting people out to the country, there’s a dollar value attached now, we’re saying that should be doubled,” he said.

“In addition to that it should be extended beyond the five years that it runs for at the moment.

“We’re wanting that in the enterprise agreement, the Malinauskas Government has extended those country incentives beyond five years, but I mean that’s the whim of a government.

“And we agree with the Malinauskas Government to make that move (but) we want it secured in our enterprise agreement so it cannot be taken away.”

Mr Gohl said “the most concerning thing” encountered while bargaining with the Department for Education was they had not tabled anything regarding improving country incentives.

“They have nothing, they gave us nothing,” he said.

“Bargaining is continuing but … we have been dismayed so far at the lack of effort being put in by the department to actually work and collaborate with us to solve this problem.

“The commencement of bargaining is a known date well in advance … so we’re really concerned the department is coming to these negotiations empty handed.

“It’s treating our members with contempt … they’re not willing to work through and solve the problems that have been faced by the workforce.”

In response, a State Government spokesperson said employer representatives have been meeting with the Australian Education Union (AEU) regularly since bargaining began to discuss a range of matters, including addressing teacher workload.

“The department will continue to negotiate in good faith with the AEU to finalise an enterprise agreement that values our workforce,” they said.

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