Public service

Civil service wage freeze sparks strike by NT teachers and prison officers, backed by nurses and firefighters

Teachers are leading strikes against a civil service pay freeze in the Northern Territory, arguing that salaries must remain higher than those offered between states to keep – or get – its classrooms staffed.

One-day strikes took place in Darwin and Alice Springs as well as regional and remote communities on Thursday after the Australian Education Union NT branch rejected a new deal proposed by the government on Tuesday night.

The salaries of all civil servants in the Northern Territories are frozen for four years at 2021 levels as part of the fiscal recovery policies implemented by the government.

Prison guards in Darwin and Alice Springs also stopped work on Thursday, while members of the nurses’ and firefighters’ unions – who are not yet on strike – joined marches in major centres.

The education union is the latest to reject a deal providing for one-time pay rises and bonuses instead of wage growth.

The participation rate of some Katherine schools was close to 100%. (ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

Katherine’s teacher, Andre Retot, whose school has continued despite a massive teacher shortage and high staff turnover, said the supply did not meet the needs.

“We need an appropriate pay raise,” he said.

“We need a pay rise that recognizes that teaching in the Northern Territory is one of the toughest places to teach in Australia, for a variety of reasons.

“And [a pay rise] which recognizes that 90% of our teachers come from outside the territory, so we have to attract them here. »

Her colleague, Daisy Fotopoulos, said the wage freeze was another deterrent to moving to the remote area, in addition to growing cost of living pressures and Katherine’s severe housing shortage.

A woman wearing a red shirt looking directly at the camera in front of a park
Katherine’s teacher, Daisy Fotopoulos, says the NT will lose even more teachers across states if the Labor Party’s wage freeze policy is locked in.(ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

She said her students were unfairly reducing flux effects.

“When I arrived last year, I was the sixth English teacher in my 7th grade class…and that was at the start of the second term,” she said.

“[Staff turnover] really impacts the student-teacher relationship in terms of trust.”

“Solid and sensible” offers on the table, says government

The offer sent to the education union on Tuesday would see teachers’ salaries rise by 1.8 to 4.8 per cent.

Seven people huddled together holding signs reading
Schools remained open during Thursday’s strike, with the education department organizing monitoring of students.(ABC News: Xavier Martin)

The starting salary would rise to $80,715, which Education Minister Eva Lawler said would again make NT teacher salaries the highest in Australia – union members said the temporary position would be outpaced by growth in other states.

‘This is a good, solid, sensible offer from the Northern Territory Government,’ Ms Lawler told ABC Radio Darwin.

“I hope the education union will take a look at it and I hope the teachers will get the information and take a look at it.”

In a letter sent to members, the union said the offer “does not significantly break the wage freeze” and does not take into account increases in the cost of living in the NT.

A young girl wearing a pink cap sitting on the grass with protesters in the background
Some students have joined teachers in protesting the NT government’s wage freeze.(ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)

Union leaders said it was also unclear whether the wage increases would be funded from additional funds or from existing school budgets.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Public Employment Minister Paul Kirby said the source of funding was not yet determined.

Prisoners in custody as prison officers go on strike

The 12-hour strike organized by prison officers on Thursday was the group’s second round of industrial action.

A government spokesman said those held in Darwin and Alice Springs jails would remain locked up during the strike, while non-emergency court appearances were canceled for the day.

people wearing khaki and red caps holding protest signs
The strikes have been going on for several months. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Staff at NT government-owned power companies will vote on whether to take industrial action next Monday.

Ms Lawler, who also holds the Treasury portfolio, said these groups could potentially be offered a pay rise deal like the one struck this week with the education sector.

But she said the government would remain “cautious” in its fiscal management.

“Our employees are our biggest cost to the government,” she said.

“We have 21 or 22,000 civil servants, so of course we have to be careful with these salary offers.”

Civil service salaries in the Northern Territories were increasing by 2% per year before the introduction of the salary freeze policy.

This followed a major review of the NT’s budget management, which recommended that salary growth be capped at $1,000 a year.

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