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Adjournment Speech: NSW Teachers Federation

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 18 Oct 2017

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:47): I congratulate the New South Wales Teachers Federation on a significant outcome in a recent New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission settlement. This settlement secures continuity of learning for tens of thousands of school students through increased permanency of teacher employment in New South Wales public schools.

It is no coincidence that the public school sector of New South Wales is one of the only areas of employment in the last decade to record real wages growth and increased permanent employment. This sector is one of the most densely-unionised sectors of employment. Through their union, New South Wales's teachers were able to effectively argue the case for secure employment and to convince the New South Wales Industrial Commission that the department is indeed obliged, under its staffing agreement, to fill all unfilled permanent vacancies in all schools across the state. This has resulted in a settlement that we will see over the next six months: a minimum of 2,630 more permanent teaching positions appointed in New South Wales schools, with this total rising to meet the department's own calculation of no fewer than 4,451 unfilled permanent vacancies, as of mid-2017.

This decision has huge implications for education in New South Wales. Students in nearly 4,500 classrooms will now benefit from the continuity of learning that only a permanent teacher can provide. It means there are nearly 4,500 New South Wales families who will gain a permanent breadwinner, with all that entails for the stability of their family, their housing and their ability to plan for a bright future.

Contrary to the myths and misrepresentations put out in the media and by the Liberal-Nationals, the highly unionised New South Wales teaching service is also recognised in Australia and internationally as highly effective, professional, engaged and of enduring quality. This, too, is no coincidence, as permanency of employment directly leads to the accumulation of skills, knowledge and experience, long-term career planning and a stable base from which teachers can pursue further education in their field through additional university or public TAFE qualifications.

We see another myth busted by this settlement, because it was achieved by an agreement between the union and the department to outcomes that are beneficial to students, to teachers and to New South Wales public education. This is an example of high union density leading to harmony, not conflict. The settlement requires the department's compliance in filling these vacancies, and the department, to its credit, has indicated its determination to do so in the settlement and to devote the necessary resources to comply with its obligations under the staffing agreement.

It is informative to contrast this with other sectors of employment in Australia, where we see low union density, stagnant wages growth, precarious employment and a decline in people's ability to pursue long-term plans for their family and their career. Low union density has led directly to an erosion of quality of life and quality of work for millions of Australians, and this is the Australia that the Liberal-Nationals are determined to create. The Turnbull government is using the ABCC in a suite of anti-union legislation to tie unions up in constant compliance requirements that increasingly limit active, constructive union work.

We can reverse this trend. The example provided by the New South Wales Teachers Federation in achieving such a significant outcome is a model for other sectors and for workers to join their union and to campaign together for greater permanency and wages growth. So a big congratulations to the New South Wales Teachers Federation for ensuring that nearly 4,500 teachers now have permanent jobs, for securing the education of thousands of students and for demonstrating the advantages of union density.

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