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Why shouldn't teachers be rewarded for putting in extra effort?

By Chris McArdle - posted Thursday, 10 June 2004

We now have our regular militancy-by-roster episode put on by that great force in the suppression of teachers' wages, the NSW Teachers Federation. It isn't excellent teachers they represent, you see, but the non-excellent ones.

"All teachers must be paid the same" is the slogan. The ones who spend the weekend correcting assignments, Saturdays coaching the HSC students, hours training the hockey team after school - they must be paid the same as the car park chargers. If you wish to see that deserving group in action, stand a respectful distance from the gate of your local school's car park at, say, one minute past three - on a weekday, of course. This breed does not appear on weekends.

Here's what will happen in this round of unbending struggle.


There will be the usual march, probably featuring old banners. There will be stern statements by a resolute subversive from the federation, who will say: "This is what teachers want, and it's the government's fault we are on strike."

There will be midnight crisis talks with some minister (he will have a crack team of 20 advisers, all of whom were there last time). There will be a resolution (last minute, of course), which will entail reference to the Industrial Relations Commission.

Much will be spent on legal fees over several months. The commission will, at its discretion, hand down a decision. My prediction: 2.7 per cent per year for three years.

What won't happen is justice for teachers. There will be no acknowledgment of dedication. The hard workers will still be paid the same as the drones.

That will leave the question, and perhaps supply the answer. The question is: "What about dedicated and talented teachers?" You would have the answer if you are a hard-working teacher. The answer is that if you have talent, if you are dedicated, if you care, if you hate brainless bureaucracy and if you want to improve yourself, you may stay in teaching, but you are likely not to. Too many who stay are the bitter and the twisted, the non-carers and the time-servers.

Why should they get the same pay as the dedicated ones? Maybe that's what should be asked of the federation. The answer that "all teachers are dedicated" should be laughed down.


The solution, of course, is unlikely to ever occur. That would be an unravelling of the knotted bureaucracy of the Department of Education and Training. It would involve a system of promotion by review, with a review appeal panel (definitely not constituted by retired pollies, or hacks from the union). It would involve a ban on automatic incremental pay rises.

It would require teachers to show how the youngsters of the state within their care and control are going with their academic progress before they move up the pole. It would require teachers to prove how much they do by way of extra-curricular activities. It would require subsidised and accessible child care to make all that possible for all teachers.

The good news is that a system like that would make most teachers better off. It would mean more money and more prospects for those who deserve it. It would attract and retain talent. Teaching would regain the respect it should have.

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Article edited by Fiona Armstrong.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 2 June 2004.

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About the Author

Chris McArdle is one of 22 lawyers accredited as Specialists in Employment Law by the Law Society of NSW, and is a partner at Colin Biggers and Paisley. He has been in specialist practice as a solicitor since 1988. Prior to that he served as a Commissioner of the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW. Before his appointment to the Commission, he had been a union official for nine years, including five years as the Organiser of the Labor Council of NSW.

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