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Question: Public School Teachers

16 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:35): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Public Sector on the topic of public school teachers.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I was concerned the Attorney-General was missing out, so I thought I had better ask him a question. Yesterday, The Advertiser reported that public school teachers may strike again in week 9 of the school term if the government does not accept their request by the start of December. The Australian Education Union President, Andrew Gohl, was quoted in the article as saying, and I quote:

Industrial action is certainly part of what we are considering, all we've got as leverage is our labour. So there are two options really, either…strike in week nine or strike in the upcoming year…We're trying to increase salaries to attract and retain…and it's important for the [government] to understand that unless we have those measures, we will continue to lose teachers.

My question to the minister therefore is: can the minister update the chamber on the progress of negotiations with the Australian Education Union? Will the government commit to meeting the teachers' demands to reduce the pressure on teachers and ensure we can retain the skilled workforce we need in our public schools?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:37): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in this area. I can absolutely assure the member that the government will continue talking, negotiating and bargaining in good faith. There have been meetings as recently as this week between representatives of the government and representatives of the union that represents teachers in this state.

I think I have outlined in this chamber before, and certainly it has been publicly reported, that the government has to date put forward three offers to the teachers' union, each offer being in totality of greater value than the last. I think all three offers are of escalating value, having been in totality the biggest offers that have ever been made as part of an enterprise bargaining negotiation with the teachers' union.

I think the third offer that was put—and I can't remember exactly how long ago it was, but I think it was early last week, Monday afternoon last week, so a week and a half ago—has sunk in value to somewhere between $1.4 billion and $1.5 billion of additional funding, comprised of a number of factors. It partly comprised increased pay but also comprised other things that the teachers' union had put forward as important to them, particularly non-instructional time.

One of the issues that the teachers' union has raised, and that the government has given in principle support for in the negotiations, pending a final resolution, is a reduction of one hour per week of non-instructional time. There is a discussion underway about how quickly that escalates under the government's third offer that would be introduced over seven years—the seven different categories of schools, with the most needy schools being the first ones to be introduced in the first year for that one hour less of non-instructional time.

Simply as a matter of practicality, it would be difficult to do it much sooner than in seven years. I know the teachers' union and most people wish we could do it a lot quicker, but, given the head of the teachers' union, Andrew Gohl, talks about a teacher shortage not just in South Australia but right around Australia, to have one less hour of non-instructional time a week there would be one less hour of teaching children, which is something that I don't think either the union or the government or any South Australian would like to see. Less time of children being taught in schools would mean extra teachers. To have that one extra hour a week, you would need I think it is 502 or 503 additional teachers being employed.

That, of course, would cost a substantial sum, but given the views expressed that there is a teacher shortage crisis around the country, it would be almost impossible to fill those positions. We are continuing to negotiate, and we will continue to negotiate, bearing in mind all the competing factors that weigh in industrial negotiations.

As I have said, we have successfully completed negotiations with a number of public sector unions, the first one I think being the ambulance officers that are employed in South Australia that for the whole of the term of the last government did not have a single pay rise. They were four years without a pay rise. Early on in the term of this government, we resolved that enterprise bargain and gave back pay for all of the years that were missed out. We have concluded negotiations since then with the firefighters and with the nurses in the public sector.

These things do take some time sometimes, but I am pleased that everyone is back around the negotiating table and hopefully we will have a resolution as soon as we possibly can, weighing up all the factors and needing to be a government that is responsible with taxpayers' money but looking to make sure we are appropriately paying and appropriately taking into consideration our teachers' workloads.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:40): Supplementary: can the minister commit to resolving the matter by Christmas?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:41): I thank the honourable member for his question. I am not going to put an artificial deadline on exactly when things will be resolved. Often, particularly with something as complicated as the teaching profession, it typically has taken many, many months. As I say, I am pleased that everybody is back around the negotiating table this week and I think everybody wishes it to be resolved as quickly as possible, but it needs to be resolved not just responsibly but in a way that can practically work.