A response to Alwyn Poole’s op-ed

Alwyn Poole’s op-ed has received a response from a secondary teacher who is also a chair of a Local PPTA branch. Since Whaleoil published Alwyn Poole’s opinion piece, we think it is only fair to publish the response to it as well.

I am a state school secondary teacher and also chair of a local PPTA branch.
I was forwarded to the link to School News and which your op-ed appeared.

I trust that your opinions about teachers’ salaries and conditions are not circulated beyond this website, as they are entirely misleading for 99.9% of public education teachers. 

While your formerly charter schools do wonderful things for underachieving students in your care, there is no way on earth that you can compare yourselves to the majority of the public sector.

Class sizes in schools average between 26 and 30 students, and our teachers must deal with some underachieving and very high needs students in those classes. Clearly these numbers are far higher than the average numbers in your classes. 

You have criticised action as being last century yet I think 50000 striking teachers yesterday would disagree with you! You refer to harking back to the 1950s, yet the STCA has served us for 60 years by centrally funding all teachers salaries and guaranteeing minimum non-contact hours and it has been only through direct action by union members in the past that we have been able to maintain at least a reasonable professional salary. The salaries and conditions provided by the STCA have also been enjoyed by non-members who have not contributed in any way whatsoever to these improvements. So non-members coat tail on our efforts.

Moreover, do not forget that integrated, special character and even private schools peg their salaries to the STCA without a thought to the cost of negotiation and the sacrifices made by union members for the cause. This is why we have included in our claim a bargaining fee to be paid by non members.

You seem to be proud that only one of your 65 teachers is a union member and you call union tactics bullying. Never in my 32 years of teaching in secondary schools and 30 years as an activist in the PPTA have I encountered bullying by our union. We are a supportive, caring collective of like-minded professionals who operate within a democratic structure.

We emphasize to non-members the benefits of joining the association and point out that the PPTA does a great deal for education beyond the representation of teachers and negotiation for salary and conditions. Non-members are then free to make their own decision.

Now that the Labour Coalition government has guaranteed the rights of union representatives to come onto work sites, I’m sure you will not stand in the way of your teachers listening to our representatives and making up their own minds. Do they know, for example, that they would have access to free legal representation in disputes or accusations brought against them?

You refer to the ERA facilitator’s recommendation that we accept the government’s “good” offer. PPTA members and the PPTA executive have rejected the government’s offer and the facilitator’s recommendation as inadequate. It offers only a little above the rate of inflation each year for three years. It offers no increase in the value of MUs. And it provides no extra non-contact time which we very much need. 

I don’t know about your special character schools but most of the state sector secondary schools need a starting salary of at least a $60,000 to be competitive with other professions. Perhaps the funding formula for your schools allows you to offer more MUs to staff, but ours cannot.

Finally our surveys show that public opinion of teachers and the action we are taking is very high. After all, if we cannot attract the numbers and the quality of teachers into the profession, students will suffer, they will be less likely to enter careers and lift themselves out of poverty