Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland and Northern Territory (IEUA-QNT) branch secretary Terry Burke said Queensland Catholic school employers have become the first in Australia to threaten a lockout.
“IEUA-QNT members are shocked by the threatening behaviour of their employer in a school environment where bullying and threats are not only not condoned but explicitly prohibited,” he said.
“That Queensland Catholic school employers would resort to such shameful tactics goes against the very ethos of what a Catholic school represents.”
Toowoomba Catholic Schools Office executive director Pat Coughlan disputes the union’s categorisation of the proposed action as a ‘lockout’.
“That is simply untrue,” Coughlan told EducationHQ.
“A lockout, as the word suggests, [means] the gates are closed, staff cannot enter, cannot attend work.
“What we are proposing is far from it. We're actually encouraging people to attend work. What we're saying, though, is we would like … people who attend work [to] actually attend work and present themselves for the full day and make themselves available for the full range of duties.
“And where we've said that that isn't going to happen, then we said that we are open to then saying to those employees, 'Look, if you're not going to be here and be available for all duties, that we would prefer that you not come at all for the day'.
“And of course, if you're not there for the day, you won't get paid for the day.”
Nearly 200 Queensland Catholic schools are authorised to take industrial action.
Queensland Catholic Education Commission (QCEC) executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry said that union claims of a lockout were untrue and misleading.
“Employers are not preventing staff from coming to work," Perry said.
“Employers respect the right of staff to take protected industrial action.
“What employers have said is that if negotiations are not finalised or the union does not lift current work bans then employers intend to exercise their right under the Fair Work Act to withhold payment for days when employees don’t carry out their full duties."
A communication was sent to all Catholic schools on Monday, saying that teachers participating in a partial work ban are not required to attend work and will not be paid.
Burke said that this amounts to a staff lockout.
“The employers in invoking section 471(4) of the Fair Work Act 2009 are refusing to ‘accept the performance of any work by the employee until the employee is prepared to perform all of his or her normal duties,'” Burke said.
“This means an employee would not and cannot perform any work whatsoever for the employer during this time.
“In the alternative, the employer would have it that the employee would be working without pay – the Act does not allow this to happen.
“Clearly Queensland Catholic school employers do not understand the Act or the provision within the Act they are invoking.
“The employer action would mean that employees undertaking the work bans would be excluded from work and effectively from the school site.
“By any reasonable understanding, what the employers are proposing is a lockout: a lockout of employees from their duties; a lockout of employees from their pay; a lockout of employees from their classrooms; if not a lockout of employees from their schools.”
Over 1000 people have signed an IEUA-QNT petition calling on Queensland Catholic school employers to withdraw the threat.
Coughlan said that the IEUA-QNT seems "hell-bent" on prolonging negotiations.
“Negotiations are at quite a frustrating point at the moment,” he said.
“These negotiations have been going on since April, and … we are now at a stage where the employers have arrived at a situation where we've got what we believe is a very, very fair offer on the table [and it] has been on the table for a couple of months now.”
An ongoing point of contention is the union’s demand that Catholic school employers match the State Government’s promise of a one-off payment of $1250 to all public servants, except for senior executives and officers.
With 20,000 Catholic school staff in the state, this would cost the sector $25 million to match in full.
Update: As of Wednesday, IEUA-QNT members have voted to suspend work bans and seek the assistance of the Fair Work Commission to resolve negotiations.