Solving the permanency puzzle

Job security is an important element of our new agreement, writes Branch Secretary Adam Lampe

Two important wins in the current NTPS Teachers and Assistant Teachers’ Enterprise Agreement are clauses 15 and 16, which provide undertakings around job security and teacher transfers.

Teacher permanency is an ongoing issue for the Northern Territory public education system. The Permanency Project was implemented in October 2017 in response to pressure from the AEU NT.

The project was supposed to deliver an increase in the number of permanent teaching positions in schools and decrease the number of fixed-term contracts. It has failed to do this. The permanent-to-fixed term ratio has basically remained static over the last 18 months at approximately two-thirds permanent to one-third fixed term contracts.

The union’s aim is to reduce the level of fixed-term contracts to a maximum of 20% across the system, but making inroads toward that figure has proven difficult. One stumbling block is the domino effect of teachers attached to schools acting in positions, either in higher duties (external or internal) or contracted to positions in the corporate division of the Department, or teachers on various types of extended leave.

Generally, these teachers can hold their specific school-based positions indefinitely, restricting schools to employing teachers on contracts to cover them. However, as a result of clause 16 in the new Agreement, a revised teacher transfer framework has been developed collaboratively between the Department and the AEU NT.

One of the elements of the new framework is to put a restriction on the amount of time a school-based teaching position can be held in abeyance. Two years will be the maximum amount of time employees will be able to remain attached to their school-based positions while acting in another role.

After that, they will have the choice to remain in their acting roles (or on leave) and become unattached to the system while retaining their own permanency, or they can return to their attached positions. This arrangement will free up those positions for permanent appointments.

However, a more insidious obstacle to permanency are the implications of school global budgets. Principals often fear taking the risk to convert fixed-term contracts into permanent positions due to fluid student enrolment and attendance, preferring to commit to 12 or six month, or even term by term, contracts. Even worse, it is an open secret that some principals prefer to employ teachers in their first few years of teaching because their wages are lower than experienced teachers and less of a burden on the school budget.

Against this is clause 15.4 of the Agreement, which allows a teacher to apply directly to the Chief Executive of DoE and request that their fixed-period employment be considered for conversion to permanency, whether it is to the school or the system.

The advantage of having job security spelled out within an enterprise agreement means that the union can now pursue the matter of permanency through formal industrial processes, giving us greater leverage at both an individual and systemic level.

I encourage members who meet the criteria for being converted to permanent status to contact our office for advice if you believe you are being unfairly overlooked.

This article was first published in the Term 2, 2019 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.