Independent Education Union applies for Catholic school staff to take industrial action

Catholic school teachers across NSW are considering industrial action amid claims negotiations over conditions have stalled.

Anything from a two-hour stop-work meeting through to a full day strike are among options being considered after the Independent Education Union applied for a protected action ballot from the Fair Work Commission.

Action would likely affect the 56 schools in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.

It comes as the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, which represents the 11 diocese in NSW and ACT, rejected a call from the union to include independent arbitration for disputes in a new enterprise agreement.

“In practice this means that it would be almost impossible for the union to enforce either our enterprise agreement or associated [work practice agreements],” IEU organiser Therese Fitzgibbon said. 

“Without access to arbitration, disputes could ultimately drag on indefinitely if the parties cannot reach agreement.”

CCER executive director Tony Farley said there was no need to include arbitration in the agreement because the existing disputes clause – which has been in place for seven years – was consistent with the Fair Work Act.

“We don’t want to change that because it’s worked well,” he said. “Every dispute that’s been notified has been resolved under that current disputes clause.”

The IEU has also been negotiating with the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle on a new Work Practice Agreement, which determines details such as class sizes and teaching time. Ms Fitzgibbon said the union was “extremely disappointed by the employer’s refusal to recognise the increasing workload of teachers and support staff in schools”. 

“Teachers are spending more and more time administering standardised tests, meeting bureaucratic requirements and attending meetings,” she said.

But the diocese’s director of schools Michael Slattery said negotiations were “well progressed”.

“We are hopeful of releasing a finalised agreement to staff for their consideration in late term three this year.”