Upper Hunter catholic school teachers 'stand together' during strike at Aberdeen

UNITED STAND: St Joseph’s High School Aberdeen teacher Vinnie Cooper with Samantha Hartcher (St James’ Primary School, Muswellbrook) and Mary-Jean Cooper (St Mary’s Primary School, Scone).
UNITED STAND: St Joseph’s High School Aberdeen teacher Vinnie Cooper with Samantha Hartcher (St James’ Primary School, Muswellbrook) and Mary-Jean Cooper (St Mary’s Primary School, Scone).

CATHOLIC school teachers from throughout the Upper Hunter “stood together” on Thursday in the hope of negotiating a “better deal”.

Educators from St Joseph’s High School (Aberdeen), St James’ Primary School (Muswellbrook), St Mary’s Primary School (Scone) and St Catherine’s Catholic College (Singleton) met at the Aberdeen Bowling Club to condemn the failure of their employers to resolve all the outstanding issues in bargaining for a new Enterprise Agreement (EA). 

In all, an estimated 3000 NSW teachers and support staff were expected to strike this week over their right to arbitration.

The industrial action comes as the union and the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) failed to reach a new EA after the previous agreement covering catholic systemic schools expired in December last year.

“We’re not asking a lot,” St Joseph’s High School representative Vinnie Cooper said.

“At the moment, our employers are insisting on removing the right of arbitration from our EA; Work Practices Agreements have not been finalised for any diocese; and members have not received a pay rise in 2017.

“We’re stating our intention to vote ‘no’ on any employer-proposed EA that has not been endorsed by the union.

“And, we’ll take further protected action if there isn’t immediate progress in negotiations.

“It’s great to see the local support here [today]; we’re very happy with the turnout.”

Mr Cooper said the teachers’ main “sticking point” was not having the right to arbitrate.

“It’s our biggest concern,” he admitted.

“Every other union has the right to go to the Fair Work Commission; our counterparts in other states do.

“NSW [catholic schools union] is the only one, which can’t.

“Also, they’re withholding our 2.5 per cent pay rise until we agree to their terms.”

The union’s NSW and ACT branch secretary, John Quessy, said a Fair Work Commission decision this year changed the interpretation of the arbitration clause in the previous EA, prompting the union to seek changes to the agreement.

“Basically the Fair Work Act says that the power of the Fair Work Commission is to, if the parties agree, arbitrate disputes,” he explained.

“However, now the Fair Work Commission has said that the use of those words suggests that if the parties do not agree, the commission has no power to arbitrate.

“This is not a change in the law but because it comes from the full bench, it's a pretty authoritative interpretation of what the act means. 

“That's why we believe it’s essential to have it in writing, so you don’t have to get agreement from both parties every time there’s a dispute.”

CCER executive director Tony Farley said the dispute resolution procedures proposed in the new agreement were the same ones that had been in place for the past seven years.

“They do have access to arbitration via consent of both parties, it’s exactly the same agreement that the union agreed to for 450 independent schools this year,” he said.

“And, the dispute clause is exactly the same as the one that was there since 2010. 

“The union had a different idea of what that meant, but it’s the exact same.

“The proof is in the pudding, it has resolved every dispute. And we’re saying that if there’s any concern with the operation of the clause going forward, we can work that out.”