During the midpoint of 2004, Australia stood poised for a 'significant' breakthrough in the salaries and status of educators, as it awaited the critical decision of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC). It was a decision that would surely have a 'domino effect' throughout Australia, and whose ramifications had already encompassed NSW and Victoria. It came after a year of political manipulation and negotiation, and more importantly, large scale industrial action. However, the issue not only stemmed from governmental policies regarding salaries and conditions, but also from the discrepancies in school funding along socially biased lines.
The initiator of the NSW Teachers dispute was the 'Vinson Inquiry' of 2001 which criticised the state of public education in NSW, particularly in regards to teacher's salaries and conditions of employment. However, the underlying triggers were the demands of the dissatisfied NSW teacher fraternity for a 25% wage increase and better working conditions, and their request for greater parity in wages between the public and private sectors.
There were several actors involved in the dispute and these included: New South Wales teacher's (particularly those from the public sector), the union representative of NSW teachers (NSW Teacher's Federation), the current NSW State government (Carr Labor government), NSW Education Minister Andrew Refshauge, Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) and the Federal government (Howard Coalition Government).
There were several key events, and varying actions undertaken by the industrial relations actors in this dispute. Firstly, the seeds of the dispute were planted on 11 April, 2004 by the Federal government, when it increased funding to catholic schools by 25%.
This was followed on 10 May, 2004 when the AIRC released a report which confirmed that NSW teacher's salaries had fallen by 21% between 1988 and 2002 in relation to real wages. Subsequently, a vote (organised by the NSWTF) was held on 11 May, 2004 by NSW public school teachers and the decision was to embark on industrial action. Then, NSW Premier Bob Carr attempted to curtail increasing teachers' salaries by pressuring the AIRC. However, AIRC ended the state government's delay tactics on 21 May, 2004, when it demanded the final submissions from both parties. Despite an impeding ruling, the NSWTF continued its push of industrial action and on 27 May, 2004, over 60,000 public sector teachers went on strike. Consequently, they were joined the following day by Catholic school teachers. The state-wide strikes gathered in momentum under the organisation of the NSWTF, until finally on 9 June 2004 the AIRC made a ruling on the dispute and awarded a 6.5% increase, across the board to all NSW teachers.
The NSW Teacher's Dispute of 2003 - 2004, not only represented a significant moment in Australian industrial relations, but it also provided evidence of its systematic change. This report analyses...