Standing strong to beat the freeze

For many principals, the benefits of executive contracts have melted away 

The standoff over government attempts to impose a pay freeze on executive contract principals continues. 

In June, chief executives wrote to all executive contract officers (ECOs), including principals, asking them to agree to a variation in their current contract that would freeze their salaries at current levels for three years.

The wage freeze is part of the government’s “budget repair” measures. But it is purely symbolic. The ECO pay freeze could save an estimated $8 million a year – against a predicted budget deficit for the current year of $1.1 billion.

The Government thought it was on to an easy winner politically with a move against public sector executives. However, the backlash among principals was immediate and pronounced. Our office was inundated with enquiries from principal members on whether they should consent to the pay freeze.

While executive principals are not protected by an enterprise agreement, the majority are AEU members and we have advocated on their behalf throughout this dispute.

The NT Principals’ Association (NTPA) has also lobbied strongly on behalf of its members. The AEU NT advised members, based on legal advice we sought, not to sign any variation.

With a very poor take up rate, the Gunner Government doubled down on its earlier stance by writing to all ECOs on 1 July with what could only be deemed a threat: agree to a three-year pay freeze now or face a four-year pay freeze on your next contract. For many principals, this added insult to injury.

The AEU NT joined with the NTPA and parent peak body COGSO to call on the Government to exempt principals from the pay freeze, on the grounds that principals are teachers and frontline workers, and pointed to analysis that the freeze could leave some principals worse off financially than their assistant principals.

The AEU NT is continuing to proactively engage the Government and Department on solutions to the current impasse. We believe there is a simple solution: if government no longer believes it can afford executive-level salaries, principals should be offered job security with a return to permanency and coverage under the teachers’ enterprise agreement, and access to the benefits enjoyed by their teaching colleagues.

The obvious window for this to take place is 2021, when teacher enterprise bargaining resumes. In the meantime, the AEU is seeking a public commitment from the Government to adopt such a position as policy.

There are important technical issues to work through, such as ensuring that principals continue to be compensated appropriately based on their context, considering variables such as stage of schooling and remoteness. Workload and welfare also need examination, particularly principals’ right to a full six weeks of recreation leave and stand down.

A useful vehicle for this is the review of principal classifications being conducted by consulting firm Mercer. A report is due to be submitted to the Chief Executive by the end of September. 

As a member of the principal classifications working group, the AEU expects to be consulted about the findings and part of the process of developing a way forward.