Principals deserve our support

Executive contract principals have taken a courageous stand, writes Jarvis Ryan

Sometimes resistance comes from the most surprising places. Thus it has been with the response to the NT Government’s so-called budget repair plan.

What the government thought would be a political slam dunk – requesting that all executive contract officers in the public service, including principals, consent to a three-year pay freeze – has been met with fierce opposition.

Only a small handful of 87 executive contract principals have agreed to the pay freeze (some were forced to consent to it because their contract was up for renewal).

For this dedicated and hard-working class of employees, who have had to surrender benefits that most of their teaching colleagues enjoy, such as job security and stand down, the pay freeze and the crude way it was communicated was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Suddenly, executive principals, a group thought too atomised and too fearful to defend their collective interests due to their employment status, are speaking up and demanding respect.

I know from talking to principals across the Territory that the fear of speaking out is real

Two principals who wrote to the Chief Executive explaining why they were not agreeing to the pay freeze forwarded their emails to me, and with their permission I am sharing their correspondence. The first wrote:

“The ECPL contract I signed means that I do not have the option of permanency, despite having a family and a mortgage. It means I signed away allowances including the remote incentive allowance, despite living in a remote category two school, a remoteness that was reinforced last Friday when I was medically evacuated via plane when my three year old son developed pneumonia.

“Out of my salary package I pay my own super and vehicle lease, a vehicle I need to do my job and yet becomes a fleet vehicle during working hours (I pay for it but everyone uses it). Since moving from AP as ST3 to Principal I have also given up the stand down in exchange for five weeks annual leave.

“Having lost the option for permanency, all allowances, stand down and the payments for car lease, I’m now being asked to sign away 2.5% pay increases.”

The second response was as follows: “I gave up permanency with the Department to take this role. The principal role is incredibly challenging and taxing, physically and emotionally.

“This latest communication advises that a nil response will result in the presumption that I have chosen the option of a pay freeze in my next contract at 2019 pay rates. My contract is not due to expire until 2023 and so I am not prepared to commit to something now as I have no idea what the situation will be in 2023. I felt quite threatened by this last email and was left feeling unsure as to how to proceed.”

I know from talking to principals across the Territory that the fear of speaking out is real. They worry that their contracts won’t be renewed unless they tow the departmental line.

What principals have done in speaking up takes real courage, and they should be applauded. It also matters how they’ve done it. By acting together, and through their representative organisations, they have shown the importance of having a collective voice. They have created an impetus for change. There is now a groundswell among principals for a return to permanent employment status.

Permanency for principals is firmly on the agenda and I believe we can win back job security for school leaders

That’s the core of unionism: the idea that if we stand together, we can be far more powerful than if we operate individually.

Permanency for principals is firmly on the agenda and I believe we can win back job security for school leaders.

This fits within the AEU NT’s broader objective of maximising permanent employment opportunities for teaching and support staff.

Greater job security for educators should be a no brainer. It makes sense for our system, our staff and our students.

However, there are institutional obstacles and inertia to overcome. Achieving our goals will require unity and solidarity.

Principals deserve our support in this campaign and I ask all members to stand in solidarity with our colleagues. 

This article was first published in the Term 3, 2019 edition of the Territory Educator magazine