MORE than 200 public educators and their supporters called for improved learning conditions for students in an emotion-fuelled rally yesterday in the heart of Mount Gambier.
Fourteen schools from across the Limestone were affected by full day stop work action, which displaced thousands of students.
Public educators – dressed in the Australian Education Union (AEU) trademark red – waved placards and chanted slogans during the march from The Rail precinct to the regional education office in Commercial Street West.
The public demonstration comes amid an ongoing impasse between the union and the State Government over stalled enterprise bargaining negotiations.
Despite months of negotiations, the union claims the government’s offer does not address key working conditions for educators.
AEU organiser Daniel Pereira told the Mount Gambier rally that this campaign was “not just about money”.
“It never is and it never has been. If we are serious about attracting and retaining the brightest and the best, then we must have nationally competitive salaries,” Mr Pereira said.
“What the government is offering would see our public education staff as the lowest paid in the country – and that is shameful.”
He said the strike was about the loss of conditions that had been “hard fought” and won over many decades.
“Let’s not forget our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions,” the union leader said.
Mount Gambier High School teacher Matthew Cherry – who described himself as a proud public school educator – moved a number of motions at the rally to “condemn” what he described as an “unfair and inadequate offer”.
“The AEU demands Premier Marshall provide a fair offer that protects current working conditions, attracts and retains country educators and realistically addresses workload complexity and jobs security and provides nationally competitive salaries,” Mr Cherry said.
Meanwhile, Brett Loader – from Millicent High School – said regional public education was complex due to the “limited supply of services to help teachers who are struggling”.
He said these issues included behavioural and mental health support for students.
“Our regional office does the very best it can with processing assessments and giving assistance but they are just are not enough of them,” Mr Loader said.
“There are students in the system that have been assessed and approved and they have been waiting for two to three years.
“They started at Year 8. Are they going to get any support by the time they get to Year 12?”
Claiming regional schools were already “behind the eight ball”, he claimed the government was trying to increase workloads on educators by reducing conditions.
“It is a bit like global warming in my mind … it grows if we do nothing about it,” Mr Loader said.
“Let’s make sure we retain our representation and we push hard as a solid unified group and we make sure our voices are heard.”
He said the educators were being hit with “negative communication” from the state’s political leaders.
Mount Gambier North Primary School educator Lisa Rye said it was important to stand up for public school education and ensure it was “world class”.
“Our campaign to strengthen public education towards sustainability and success is built around respect,” Ms Rye said.
She said there appeared to be a constant undermining of public education and called for balanced and supported workloads.
Australian Education Union President SA Branch Howard Spreadbury reinforced the stop work action was not taken lightly.
“We understand it will have an impact for families, but not taking action would lead to a far more detrimental outcome for their children in the long run and that is not a risk we can take,” Mr Spreadbury said in a statement.
“The Marshall Government has repeatedly tried to downplay the level of support that this Stop Work action has received from the community and our members,” Mr Spreadbury said.
“The Marshall Government and the Department for Education have also been actively pressuring leaders to keep sites open, particularly preschools.”
But Mr Spreadbury remained hopeful for a positive resolution.
“Workload and complexity, job security and country incentives must be addressed,” he said.
“We have put forward a modified proposal outlining issues that must be taken into account before an offer will be considered.”
Mr Spreadbury also did not ruled out further action in the future.