Hunter Catholic staff to vote on controversial enterprise agreement

THE majority of the Hunter’s Catholic school teachers and support staff are expected to reject a proposed three-year enterprise agreement, which will be put to vote on Tuesday despite not being endorsed by the Independent Education Union (IEU).

The union’s Newcastle officer Therese Fitzgibbon said the more than 300 members who stopped work for four hours on Monday were “outraged” at the decision to put the agreement forward and felt it “didn’t reflect Catholic teachings about social justice”.

“I think we’re going to get a very big no vote,” Ms Fitzgibbon said.

“They’re very aware that if they vote yes, it’s the beginning of the end. That if the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER) can offer a non-union endorsed agreement once, they will continue to do it.

“Members appreciate that long service leave, maternity leave, class size caps and release from face to face teaching hasn’t come at the discretion of the employer.

“We’ve worked for over 50 years to get good conditions... and if they don’t respond seriously and ensure a no vote, it’s a very rapid tumble down a downhill slope.”

As previously reported, the IEU and CCER started negotiating late last year over a new agreement to start in 2017.

The IEU want a clause that allows staff to seek arbitration in the Fair Work Commission over disputes. 

The CCER said there was no need to include arbitration in the agreement.

It said the current process in place for the past seven years has resolved every dispute and is consistent with the Fair Work Act. 

Catholic Schools Office (CSO) director Michael Slattery said if the process stopped working “the CSO will be happy to work with the union to find ways to improve it”.

He urged members to accept the agreement – and access their 2.5 per cent pay increase backdated to January 1 – and allow the IEU and CCER to continue arbitration negotiations in 2018.

He said if staff voted no, the CSO would meet with the CCER to discuss “the next steps”.

“The issue of back pay for those leaving the organisation before the end of the year will be examined during the next meeting with CCER once the results of the vote by employees are known,” a CSO spokesman said.

Ms Fitzgibbon said members “won’t be moving” on arbitration. 

“This isn’t one where we can meet in the middle – unless the employer changes their position I can’t see an easy ending.” 

Members from six schools will stop work on either Tuesday or Wednesday.