Catholic school teachers across the city refused to work on Monday in an effort to fight for arbitration in a new enterprise agreement.
Teachers from Armidale’s O’Connor Catholic College and St Joseph’s Primary School in Uralla were on strike until noon, with dozens participating in a rally held at the Ex-Services Club by the Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT branch (IEU).
“This dispute is settled on one word – and it’s our right to be able to arbitrate,” O’Connor teacher Peter McLeish told The Express.
“The Catholic Schools office and the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) are saying all disputes can be settled without the need for arbitration but that’s like having a game of rugby league with no referee … it can’t be done.
That’s like having a game of rugby league with no referee … it can’t be done.Peter McLeish
“At the end of the day the employer will win.”
The union and the CCER failed to reach a new enterprise agreement after the previous agreement covering Catholic systemic schools expired in December last year.
“The Department of Education schools have the right to arbitrate and Catholic schools in Tasmania and Victoria also have the right to arbitrate but for some reason our NSW systemic Catholic schools have said no,” Mr McLeish said.
Mr McLeish said the true solution would be a complete change in legislation by the federal government.
“These agreements are leftovers from the ridiculous workplace agreements that John Howard’s government brought in in 2006,” he said.
“Then he was shown the door in 2007 and didn’t even win his own seat.
“Successive governments since then have not been game enough to take it on.
“Whether a future Labor government will take it on remains to be seen.”
IEU NSW/ACT branch organiser Peter Bishop voiced a motion during Monday’s rally to vote no on any employer-proposed enterprise agreement that has not been endorsed by the Union.
It was passed unequivocally by members.
“What we’re looking for is a restoration of rights that we’ve always had to complete enforcement of enterprise agreements so we have a complete open go to an industrial umpire if we need one in an industrial dispute,” Mr Bishop said.
“Teachers and support staff aren’t being afforded those rights and it’s unacceptable.
“For employers to say effectively, ‘we’ll extend those rights if we see fit, we’ll have right to vito’ means it’s no right at all.
“The rules need to be changed.”
In a letter to staff, Armidale Catholic Schools director Chris Smyth said the dispute resolution clause in the new staff agreement had not changed from the existing agreement and was successful in conflict resolution for the last seven years.
“However if, for some reason, it does stop working throughout the life of this new agreement, the Diocese will be happy to work with you and your union to find ways to improve it,” the letter said.
“The teachers have voted for further action.”