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Question: Teachers in the Public Sector

29 August 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:56): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector on the topic of teachers in the public sector.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: In November last year, the University of South Australia presented a report to the Australian Education Union (SA Branch), titled 'Teachers at breaking point'. The report claimed that teachers work well above the hours for which they are paid, with South Australian public school teachers working an average of 50 hours per week. Thirty hours of time worked is spent on tasks beyond face-to-face teaching. The proportion of teachers satisfied with their wages has dropped to 37 per cent, a majority of teachers are now working on temporary contracts and almost half of the respondents intend to leave teaching within the next five years.

The Australian Education Union are calling on the state government to allow teachers to be able to spend more hours engaged in face-to-face activities with students, provide a school services officer in every classroom to support staff and students and to offer a salary that actually reflects the work that they do every day. The union have indicated their intention to strike this Friday 1 September to ask for better support for teachers in schools.

My question to the minister therefore is: as the Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector, is he concerned about the workload and wages of public school teachers, and is the minister satisfied that the government is actually meeting its obligations to teachers as key public sector employees?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:58): I thank the honourable member for his question and his support and interest in public sector workers, particularly those who are very public facing, like teachers. We have a great deal of respect for and value workers in many of these areas, teachers included, as we do for other of those public facing, public sector workers, such as ambulance officers, or nurses, or firefighters. Teachers do an incredible job and are at the frontline of making sure our children get the best possible start in life.

We made a commitment from opposition that we have carried into government to negotiate and bargain in good faith with public sector unions when the industrial agreements come up for negotiation. We have started doing that as part of the negotiation with teachers. The sector of the government that deals with the public sector unions has had a number of constructive meetings—I think the latest today, from memory—to talk about some of the views of the union and what the union is requesting.

I think it's on the public record that the initial request from the union was just under a 25 per cent pay increase over four years. If my maths is right that would be somewhere around 6 per cent a year. We are considering that, but it would be almost double other recent outcomes that were achieved for public sector workers like firefighters, nurses and ambulance officers. We do understand how valuable teachers are, but we still are a fair distance apart given the outcomes that have occurred for other public sector workers.

The honourable member mentioned a couple of the other requests at the start of negotiations. I think it included a student support officer in every classroom, which would equate—if I remember correctly—to something like 6,000 extra SSOs, and the request for a 20 per cent reduction in face-to-face teaching would either be one day of school less for students every week of the year, or something like 3,000 extra teachers.

The non-wage components, the reduction in teaching time and the extra SSOs, equate to something like a billion dollars a year of extra funding that would be required. Whilst this is the start of negotiations—we will negotiate in good faith—we are still some way off and there is a gap between what the union has initially put forward and obviously what we are going to be able to sustain as a government, but we will continue those discussions.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:01): Supplementary question: if the government has so much respect for teachers why have they put forward such a meagre offer, and why aren't they ensuring that they are being appropriately reimbursed, particularly after so many years of COVID?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:01): I thank the honourable member for his question but, as I have outlined, what we put is in line with the outcomes in terms of pay increases that were achieved for other very, very hardworking public sector workers like nurses, like ambulance officers and like firefighters.