Thousands take part in first WA public school teachers strike in a decade

Thousands take part in first WA public school teachers strike in a decade
  • PublishedApril 23, 2024

Thousands of WA public school teachers have walked off the job for the first time in more than a decade in a bid for better pay and working conditions.

It’s affected many of the state’s 832 public schools in some way, with the Department of Education saying at least 22 have closed fully and 62 are only partially open for the morning.

Many schools have told parents their children will be supervised but won’t be taught normal lessons.

A woman in a teachers rally holding a sign reading, 'I made this sign with resources I paid for'.
Teachers are asking for a 12 per cent pay rise over two years.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The State School Teachers Union WA (SSTUWA) said it was taking the action as a “last resort” after the government’s most recent offer fell short of its demands on pay and restrictions on class sizes.

The union was looking for a 12 per cent pay rise over two years, but the government’s offer is 11 per cent over three years.

Two female teachers stand outside during a rally, posing for a photo with a sign reading 'teacher burnout caused this turnout'.
Teachers rallied in Geraldton in the state’s Midwest on Tuesday.(ABC News: Piper Duffy)

“We’ve got members who can’t afford fresh fruit and vegetables, who are under-insuring their properties and their belongings,” union president Matt Jarman said on Monday.

“Some of our teachers are moving back home with their parents.”

Government not budging on pay offer

Premier Roger Cook said he felt the strike was unnecessary, but respected the right of teachers to take industrial action.

“They want more support, particularly for dealing with kids with special needs. That might be behavioural, educational or whatever,” he told ABC Radio Perth.

“We’ve heard that very clearly and we’re working with the union to reach agreement on that package.

A close-up shot of a little girl from behind in a crowd of people, with her red shirt reading 'is my future not worth funding?'.
About 150 people attended a rally in Geraldton in regional WA, with teachers joined by families and supporters.(ABC News: Piper Duffy)

“Their work is more complex today than it has ever been in the life of a teacher.”

Mr Cook would not confirm if the government would increase its wages offer.

Working conditions at the heart of action

Speaking at the Perth rally of about 8,000 people at Gloucester Park, teacher Harmony Britton said union members were asking the government to value their work and support them in jobs they love.

Teachers Cynthia Geils and Harmony Britton hold signs in the middle of a rally.
Teachers Cynthia Geils (left) and Harmony Britton (right) take part in the strike action. (ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“Pay is the minimum, it’s the conditions, it’s having less than 32 kids in a Year 8 classroom where you’ve got at least half of them have got diagnosed conditions and no support,” she said.

“How can you possibly give quality education is one person with 32 kids? It’s not possible.”

A mid-shot of teacher Mark Pearce outdoors at a rally wearing a black shirt and sunglasses, posing for a photo.
Mark Pearce says teachers have had a lot of extra tasks “chucked on” them. (ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Workloads were also the biggest issue for head of technology and enterprise at Ashfield High School, Mark Pearce, who said teachers were spending dozens of hours each week on marking and administrative tasks.

“So there’s just a whole stack of different things that have been chucked on teachers of the last 20 to 30 years. We can’t teach,” he said.

A group of teachers holding signs with various messages about increasing wages.
Teachers in Broome take part in the stop-work action.(ABC News: Mya Kordic)

About 20 schools across regional WA have been affected by the action, with teachers in Broome rallying with signs reading “give us a raise, not praise”.

Karratha Senior High School teacher Gina Clifford was among the hundreds who rallied in Pilbara town, saying reducing class sizes must be a priority.

A group of four women holding signs of protest.
These Karratha teachers make their feelings clear. (ABC News: Rosemary Murphy)

“Having overly inflated numbers of students in the class makes it unsafe for teachers and students,” she said.

Outside Bunbury Primary School, a number of parents expressed their support for the action. 

“Give them whatever they want,” one parent said.

Strike a blow for some parents

But local mother Lucy Ramm said the strike had affected some more than others.

“There have been a lot of people who have not been able to have today off, straight off the back of two weeks of school holidays, [when] a lot of us had to take annual leave to look after the kids,” she said.

Lucy Ramm in jacket with her child.
Lucy Ramm said the teacher strike action had made things difficult for some parents. (ABC News: Bridget McArthur)

Ms Ramm said she had been able to drop off her two youngest kids at pre-school, but her eldest was not permitted to return to school until 12:30pm.

“For me, that’s not really doable, so she’ll have to have the whole day off today,” she said.

School leaders plan action

Public school leaders will also take industrial action from next week, after their union – the Principals Federation of WA – also rejected the government’s second pay offer.

A large crowd of people walking in a rally holding signs about fair pay for teachers.
The rally at Gloucester Park in Perth has drawn crowds of thousands.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

In a letter to members, president Bevan Ripp said from Monday they should not undertake a range of administrative tasks, including attending Education Department briefings and completing performance reviews.

They were also asked to not attend school board or P&C meetings out of hours, and to only complete incident reports where it involved emergency services or a mandatory report of suspected sexual abuse.

Other unions show support

UnionsWA secretary Owen Whittle, who leads an alliance of unions collectively pushing for higher public sector wages, said stop-work actions like today’s were crucial to put pressure on the government.

“What you’re doing is going to increase wages and conditions across the public sector,” he told the crowd in Perth.

A range of other unions are expected to ramp up similar campaigns as their members’ pay and conditions agreements expire.

The state government last year announced it would move away from blanket public sector pay policies, creating the opportunity for each union to negotiate their own pay rises.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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