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April 20, 2021

Murwillumbah Catholic teachers protest at ‘shut out’

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Around 75 teachers and staff from Mount St Patrick Catholic College and Mt St Patrick Primary schools in Murwillumbah who were banned from holding a stop-work meeting in the school grounds lined up instead on the pavement outside the schools on Monday in protest.
Around 75 teachers and staff from Mount St Patrick Catholic College and Mt St Patrick Primary schools in Murwillumbah who were banned from holding a stop-work meeting in the school grounds lined up instead on the pavement outside the schools on Monday in protest.

Luis Feliu

Teachers and staff at two Catholic schools in Murwillumbah, angered at not being allowed to hold a one-hour stop work meeting on the school grounds on Monday as part of a statewide industrial campaign, took their protest to the streets instead.

The 75 teachers and staff at Mount St Patrick Catholic College and Mt St Patrick Primary schools lined up on the pavement outside the schools in an action protesting the singling out of the two schools for the ban on the meeting within school grounds.

The schools, according to the teachers’ union, were the only two of the 26 catholic schools in the Lismore diocese where the ban was in place. Teachers at the other schools were allowed to meet in school libraries, classrooms or staff rooms.

The Catholic Schools Office of the Lismore diocese says the staff were offered access to the parish hall adjacent to the school for the stop-work meeting, but the teachers say thhe hall is not on school premises.

Thousands of Independent Education Union (IEU) members at more than 400 schools across NSW held stop work meetings at their schools on Monday for an update on a longstanding and drawn-out workplace agreement negotiations.

IEU north coast organiser Steve Bergan said the teachers and staff were ‘at a loss, outraged and dismayed’ as to why they were locked out of their school for the meeting and no explanation given by employers on the decision.

‘It was a low-key meeting for an update and report to members on the ongoing negotiations, we didn’t want to cause disruption,’ Mr Bergan told Echonetdaily.

He said the teachers and staff were ‘astounded’ when delegates at the school asking to use the library for the meeting were told by the principals that they could not hold the meeting on the school grounds.

Mr Bergan said the principals tried to ‘appease’ the members by offering the nearby parish hall instead.

‘Why were they being treated differently? Many asked “why are we on the street and others are allowed to meet in the school libraries or classrooms?”,’ Mr Bergan said.

‘It stinks of inequity and [was] ill considered. Other schools have had no issue with teachers meeting on site so that we can be back at work on time with minimum fuss,’ he said.

A spokesman for the Catholic Schools Office of the Lismore diocese said the staff were not shut out from school for their stop work meeting.

‘I understand  they were granted access to the parish hall adjacent to the school,’ assistant director of school resources services, Dirk Botha, told Echonetdaily.

‘There is no intent on the part of the schools in the diocese to put teachers off attending these meetings or intimidate staff. The schools fully respect teachers’ rights to stop work in accordance with Stop Work Regulations,’ Mr Botha said.

IEU general secretary John Quessy praised yesterday’s street-protest action by the Mt St Pats teachers and staff.

‘If this was to put IEU members off taking part in the stop work action it has back fired spectacularly. Our members have shown they will not be intimidated,’ Mr Quessy said.

Yesterday’s industrial action across the state follows previous stoppages by IEU members during July and August to protest the proposed enterprise agreement by the Catholic school employers since the old agreement expired last the end of last year.

Mr Bergan said progress on negotiations since last November had been slow and ‘extremely disappointing’.

‘The crux of this dispute is working conditions, they’re trying to strip away all the conditions members have fought so hard for over the years, it’s not a pay dispute,’ he said.

Outstanding issues of the dispute, he said, included increased teaching hours, removal of the cap on class sizes,  professional development on weekends and in school holidays and support and operational staff pay and conditions.

‘The cap on class sizes is 30 now but, if they remove that, it will impact on the quality of education the teachers provide and parents expect,’ he said.

‘Proposals that would impact on teachers’ and support and operational staff’s ability to provide a quality education for students, such as the limits on class sizes, remain unresolved.

Mr Quessy said, ‘we felt we had no choice but to take further action affecting the whole of NSW. This abomination of a proposal strips back the majority of the conditions which teachers and the union have achieved over the past decades’.

‘We are not seeking to unnecessarily disrupt parents and students, that’s why our stop work meeting was only for one hour. However, unless a sensible and fair response from the Catholic employers comes soon, more sustained industrial action cannot be ruled out.’


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3 COMMENTS

  1. It is baffling that Catholic employers were adamant that this was not a shut out, but teachers were still not allowed on school premises. Equally bizarre is the Catholic ethos of social justice, and the Pope’s clear statements on the vitality of unions, in stark contrast to this problem currently facing teachers in the Catholic sector.

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