MARY BARTLETT: How we scrapped the pay cap!

MARY BARTLETT: How we scrapped the pay cap!

It was tiring and stressful, but it was bloody worth it and I’d do it again.

I was one of the many Education Facility Attendants (EFAs) who picketed outside Rose Bay High School in July.

Since 2011 Tasmanian governments capped public sector pay at 2%. Every year it got harder and harder to keep up with rising costs of living here.

We had been in negotiations for a fair pay rise of 3% for a few months, but the Hodgman Liberal Government weren’t giving any ground.

When we shifted and offered to meet them halfway at 2.5%, they offered an insulting 2.1%.

2.1%, yet the Treasurer couldn’t stop telling everyone about his budget surplus!

It felt so disrespectful, because he maintained that there wasn’t any money to give us a fair pay rise. 

So EFAs decided to escalate. 

We went from refusing to clean windows and tidy up classroom floors, to not cleaning the toilets – and anyone at my school will tell you that I’m pretty particular about my toilets and hygiene! 

I stopped cleaning them though, because I was disgusted that the Hodgman Government wasn’t negotiating fairly.

Well, not cleaning toilets certainly made them take notice.

We got a tip off that the Government was calling up portaloo companies to suss out costs, and a couple of schools had to shut down.

Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the media, explaining just how much we wanted to go back to cleaning – but that we wouldn’t until Hodgman came back to the table and respected us with a fair offer.

The Head of the Learning Centre, who is also a member of the Australian Education Union, brought us out a kettle of hot water, tea and cups.

Our supplies grew from there: others arrived with hot chips, coffee, sandwiches, hand warmers, and sausage rolls.

It had a real community feel.

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I was very moved by it all. It was the first time I’d done anything like that.

Union officials from United Voice and other unions joined and supported us.

EFAs from other schools heard what had happened and just walked off the job so they could stand in solidarity with us.

I felt proud.

I couldn’t have done it without the support of all those people. The person I directly report to was actually really supportive as well.

After lunch a storm hit.

The rain was flying sideways and the wind was freezing.

We huddled together under a flapping tarp, using umbrellas and protest signs to stem the leaks and break the wind.

It was a proper winter day.

Once the storm had passed, buses started to roll in to collect the kids.

Parents drove by, hooting their horns in support.

One mother yelled out so passionately that initially we thought she was angry with us, but by the end it was clear that the Hodgman Government was her target.

Someone cheekily turned up their music so we could have some fun.

I did have a lot of fun that day. But I’m so glad that we didn’t have to go back and do it again.

The Minister for Education, Jeremy Rockliff, called our union office, asking us to please step down.

We agreed to call off the work bans over the school holidays, but said we would implement them again if his government failed to come to the table.

Well, they did come to the table. The entire public sector had stopped work to attend rallies, but I’m pretty sure it was EFA’s work bans, our dirty toilets and picket line that cracked them.

The Liberal Government was forced to scrap the pay cap.

EFAs won a 2.5% pay rise for the next 12 months, and a commitment from Hodgman that fair negotiations for pay rises over the next couple of years will be held.

I’m pretty rapt about what we’ve achieved together.

I hope that these negotiations prove to be fairer and that the Hodgman Government respects us.

I know though that whatever happens EFAs are ready to fight again.

We know what we’re worth and we know our power as a union.