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Issue #1612      September 25, 2013

Teachers’ stopwork rally in Perth

On yet another cool and wet day, teachers rallied in support of quality public education following their previous action at Parliament House in Perth on September 3. The rally on September 19 was called following the response from Liberal Premier Colin Barnett that he was not prepared to change his mind on cuts to school funding and reductions in school staff – which Barnett called reforms but to teachers, school assistants and other education support staff were seen for what they are: cuts.

(Photo: Richard Titelius)

The rally was organised by the three unions with members affected by the cuts; State School Teachers Union, Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association and United Voice. It was called for 9.00am at Gloucester Park Raceway and was attended by over 12,000 teachers, education support staff, parents, students, unionists in solidarity from other unions and concerned members of the community. There were also an estimated 5,000 staff attending rallies at 23 regional centres in WA and smaller meetings at schools in remote communities in the state’s isolated eastern and northern deserts.

If Premier Barnett thought that his intransigence over the concerns of the teachers union – and news earlier in the week of the state losing their AAA credit rating – would deter the teachers and other staff employed in the public education sector, he had severely underestimated the workers’ and communities’ resolve.

The cuts announced so far for the 2014 school year include 350 education assistants, 150 central and district office staff, 94 Aboriginal education officers, eight schools of instrumental music teachers and 30 percent cuts from funds provided to schools to support efforts to improve literacy and numeracy skills and modify disruptive behaviour. There are also moves to have teachers pay for their own long service leave to the tune of $600 per annum per teacher and $400 per other staff.

The MC for the rally was Unions WA secretary Meredith Hammat, who opened by urging the rally to ensure their voices are heard by Premier Barnett and Treasurer Troy Buswell via the throngs of media present.

The first speaker was Anne Gisborne, president of the SSTU – the iconic leader of the battle for saving public education – who said that Premier Barnett had been unrelenting in his attacks on teachers and public education. In rural schools Gisborne added, “Barnett has said that children deserve a restricted future by narrowing the types of courses available”.

When schools for 2014 are set to get 6,000 extra children the teaching of these children cannot just be delivered by “stretching resources”.

“These are cuts to education and investment in schools and not reforms … and we will not stop (our campaign) till we turn around the budget cuts and preserve access to public education for all,” concluded Gisborne to thunderous applause.

Schools are not only about teaching but the provision of auxiliary services such as libraries, registries, youth access programs and head office support staff. The government also sought to let the axe fall on the jobs which are provided by public servants according to Rikki Hendon the assistant secretary of the CPSU/CSA who represents the members in these vital support areas.

Hendon reiterated the hypocritical words of WA Education Minister Peter Collier earlier that week who said that the WA school system had never been better resourced when his government’s actions had demonstrated contempt for this concept through the extensive cuts to funding and jobs.

Carolyn Smith, the secretary of United Voice, reminded the rally, “It takes a school community to educate a child – the school support staff are there to help the teacher teach the student.”

There were five resolutions put to the rally by SSTU vice president Pat Byrne which condemned the cuts.

By the end of the day Premier Barnett and Minister Collier had agreed to sit down with SSTU officials on the following Monday to discuss their concerns.

Absent from the rally were information about the cuts to TAFE and steep fee increases being planned for students in the public skill training sector. SSTU organiser Ramona Mitussis had addressed the Unions WA September Council meeting and outlined the issues which were confronting the TAFE sector. These included the tripling of fees and more for some courses i.e. a Diploma of Enrolled Nursing jumping from $1,800 to $7,300 and Diploma of Surveying from $1,700 to $5,600. To undertake these courses students will have to make loan like arrangements similar to HECS debts for attending university.

In addition private providers are coming into the training market and some of the qualifications are so dubious that employers are asking that job applicants pay up to $2,000 for certification from TAFE that they have the skills which their qualification says they should have.

The Communist Party of Australia condemns Premier Barnett’s cuts to public education and supports the call for a community campaign to bring about a reversal of the funding cuts.

Next article – Coalition abandons aged care workers

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