Catholic teachers strike over agreement that “takes us to back to the dark ages”

Catholic teachers across the MIA went on strike on Monday, taking a stand against what they believe is an unfair enterprise agreement that “takes us to back to the dark ages”.

The agreement, put forward by catholic education employers, would prevent teachers from accessing the Fair Work Commission to resolve disputes through arbitration. 

Arbitration is when the Fair Work Commission decides on a dispute that can’t be resolved in-house or through mediation. 

Staff stopped work for four hours, attending rallies around NSW and the ACT after Catholic employers put the agreement to a vote without first approaching the union for endorsement.

Marion College teacher Esther Dumbleton says the new agreement “asks teachers to sign away their right to arbitration”. 

“I can’t understand the reasoning behind it. They’re taking us back to the dark ages … we feel disrespected,” Mrs Dumbleton said. 

Independent Education Union (IEU) representative Lyn Caton, who led the Griffith rally, said the agreement was “extremely disappointing”. 

“This is something they’ve always agreed to in the past as part of a statement of ethos,” she said. 

“The only thing we want them to do is add a statement in the disputes clause that basically says if there be a dispute that can’t be resolved, that parties may refer that to the Fair Work Commission.” 

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Tony Farley, Executive Director of the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER), a peak  body representing  catholic schools, condemned the strike. 

"It is disappointing that the IEU is trying to bring students into this. We want to get teachers their pay rises before Christmas," Mr Farley said

Teachers in about 350 schools across the ACT and New South Wales went on strike at the start of the school day.

"The IEU is wrongly asserting the EA takes away the rights of teachers and other school staff,” Mr Farley said. 

“Nothing is being taken from them at all. Under the agreement, teachers will receive significant pay rises and will have increased opportunity for salary progression."

This is the second time NSW and ACT Catholic staff have gone on strike since the previous agreement expired last December.

Ms Caton said she believes the agreement in itself goes against what Catholic schools are all about.

“We don’t believe it’s a fair and equitable thing. We don’t see it as social justice. It’s not part of what Catholic teachers and schools do.”

The CCER says if union members vote in favour of the agreement staff will receive pay increases of 2.5% which will be backdated to 1 January 2017. 

Mrs Dumbleton says she feels as if this is holding teachers “to ransom”. 

The IEU maintains the strike wasn’t about teacher’s pay. 

“The dispute is about Catholic employers veteoing the right to access the Fair Work Commission for arbitration.”