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Rally: Catholic Schools Office staff call for equal pay

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They may have been small in number but the group of Catholic Schools Office (CSO) staff that marched from Wickham Park to Newcastle West on Thursday afternoon were louder and brighter than the rain that threatened their stop-work meet. 

Gathering beneath the trees just before 4pm on 6 June, wearing bright yellow T-shirts and waving banners and placards, flags and megaphones, they expressed their disgust after talks with their employer, the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, failed to reach agreement on salaries. 

CSO staff support the delivery of teaching and learning in Catholic systemic schools across the Diocese.  

Their roles include administrative and support staff, but most are education officers (qualified teachers) and school-based psychologists and counsellors. 

Staff employed under the CSO Staff Enterprise Agreement say they have long received the same pay increases as teachers and support staff in Catholic systemic schools, including a decade of just 2.5% due to a direct correlation with the public sector wages cap. 

But, now, the Diocese has opted not to pass on a 8% increase paid to schoolteachers in October 2023.  

Instead the Diocese has offered 3%. 

“The employer’s failure to match pay rises in Catholic schools is a disappointing departure from the long-accepted practice of employees in the CSO receiving the same increases as teachers working in schools,” said IEUA NSW/ACT branch assistant secretary Amanda Hioe. 

The group say salaries for school-based psychologists and counsellors have now fallen far behind the salaries of psychologists working in NSW government schools. 

“Traditionally, this group of employees, for as long as we can find any data on, has always got exactly the same pay increases as those that applied to teachers,” says IEUA NSW/ACT member and rally organiser Therese Fitzgibbon. 

“Teachers get 2.5% in schools, CSO staff get 2.5% in schools, because we were captured artificially by the state government salary cap. 

“Catholic teachers got 2.5% for 10 years, so these guys have only got 2.5% for 10 years. 

“But, in October last year, teachers got their first meaningful increase in over a decade. They got an 8% increase.  

“We assumed that that increase would flow straight on, as it always has for for decades. 

“And, they just turned around and said, No, we don’t think your work is worth 8%. We’ll pay you 3%. 

“This is why this group is out here today, to say, no, we work in schools, we’re teachers, we’re psychologists, we’re professionals. We’ve always had the same increase as schools, so why is now any different.” 

The group’s warning for the Diocese moving forward is that if they leave to find higher paid roles within government education, the Catholic sector will struggle to retain this critical resource. 

“The Diocese continues to talk about the need for well-being amongst students and increasing mental health issues,” Therese adds. 

“While at the same time they’re refusing to recognise, reward and pay those people who are supporting those students. 

“Employers heard the voice of teachers last year. Now it’s time for them to hear the voice of the Catholic Schools Office staff, too.” 

A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has since responded to the rally and pay claims.

“While the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle respects its employees’ right to take protected industrial action in pursuit of a new pay deal, the Diocese is disappointed by the way in which they have positioned their campaign. 

“In October 2023, the Diocese agreed with the NSW Independent Education Union (IEU) that an unprecedented increase of 8% would be paid to teachers working within the classroom environment. This was despite any increase in government funding and consistent with the NSW Department of Education’s increase, and more importantly, a sign of our commitment to retaining our classroom teachers, who, with five years’ experience, will be earning a salary of approximately $122,000.  

“There are 155 staff members who are employed in the head office under the CSO Staff Enterprise Agreement. They are now asking for this same 8% increase to be applied for all.  

“Whilst the IEU highlights school counsellors as key members of this group, what the IEU fails to mention is that the majority of employees under this agreement are education officers, professional officers or administrative staff.  

“In addition to up to 8 weeks leave per year, an Education Officer in the CSO’s head office already receives an average salary of approximately $153,000 without any of the pressures of being in a frontline classroom environment.  These employees, who decided to leave the classroom teaching environment to work in the head office, make up the majority of staff covered by this Enterprise Agreement. 

“Their slogan, “Same purpose, same passion, same pay rise”, fails to highlight that their baseline salary is approximately $30,000 higher than that of their equivalent experienced classroom teacher counterparts. Despite sharing the same purpose and passion as their classroom teacher peers, the head office employees are campaigning for a significantly larger pay disparity. 

“The majority of counsellors working in our Catholic schools are already in the top three salary bands, with a minimum starting salary of $130,583 and additional leave benefits.  

“The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has offered a 3% increase and remains firm on this figure. 

“The Diocese recognises that our operating budget is wholly reliant on government funding and the fees we ask families to pay.  

“The Diocese believes 3% is a fair, reasonable and affordable increase, offered alongside the many benefits of not being in a classroom environment and dealing with the frontline pressures.  An increase higher than this would be an inappropriate and an inequitable outcome for our classroom teachers. 

“While their actions don’t change our ongoing commitment to negotiate with staff in good faith or, to provide them with the best outcomes we can, it does consume valuable resources that could be better utilised in supporting students. 

“We look forward to returning to our negotiations and concluding these in a timely and effective manner. “

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