It’s the first time in 10 years educators have walked off the job in the state over pay and conditions.

The State School Teachers’ Union of WA (SSTUWA) had earlier advised its members that the strike action was taking place to protest against the Cook Government’s unacceptable pay rise offer for primary and high school teachers.

At a rally at Perth’s Gloucester Park on Tuesday morning, which organisers claimed attracted more than 8000 people, SSTUWA president Matt Jarman told gathered teachers that it was clear they were struggling with the largest class sizes in the country, on top of pressures from students with additional needs and violent and aggressive behaviour.

“The State Government needs to fix public education and it needs to fix it now,” Jarman said.

Jarman reiterated that while the decision to disrupt classes was a difficult one, he believed parents remained supportive of the union’s position.

“We will continue to say to West Australian parents that we don’t want the disruption and we don’t want to interrupt your student learning, but at the end of the day, what price is a poor public education system? And we need to address that,” he said.

At the end of the rally, members agreed to four motions, including authorising further industrial action if no agreement is reached by May 10.

Last Friday, Dr Saul Karnovsky from Curtin University’s School of Education told EducationHQ that teachers have been pushed to the brink – and it is critical that the WA Government takes their requests seriously.

He said in a SSTUWA survey from 2023, 86 per cent of teachers intended, or considered, leaving the profession in the previous four years.

“So I feel that if these conditions aren’t improved and the pay rise that’s being asked for by the union isn’t fully met, this intention to leave figure will move to actual leaving and attrition from the profession,” Karnovsky said.

“Because if you’re already full throttle and you’ve already got one foot out the door, it doesn’t take much of a push to get both feet out the door, and I see this protracted negotiation or a watered down EBA that doesn’t meet the requirements of the union members, to be that push that these teachers need in some ways to walk – and that would be unfortunate and will have large-scale consequences for our schooling system.”

On Monday Jarman said that teachers and school leaders were overworked and underpaid and were already leaving the public education system in droves.

“If we want to attract and retain the best teachers in WA, they need to be paid adequately and have manageable workloads,” he said.

Jarman said teachers were battling with increasing class sizes, escalating violent behaviour in schools and managing the needs of children with neurodivergence.

“The SSTUWA has continued to bargain in good faith with the Department of Education to get an appropriate offer, and we do not take this stop-work action lightly,” he said.

“We’ve got members who can’t afford fresh fruit and vegetables, who are under-insuring their properties and their belongings,” Jarman said.

WA Premier Roger Cook said while he thought the strike action was regrettable, he reserved the right of the teachers to take industrial action. He would not confirm if the Government is looking at increasing its wages offer. PHOTO: AAP

The union directed members to take the protected industrial action after rejecting the Government’s second offer of an increase of five per cent in the first year, followed by three per cent in each of the following two years.

The union has asked for seven per cent in the first year followed by five per cent, and a range of improvements in conditions and workload issues.

Speaking on ABC Radio Perth on Monday, Premier Roger Cook said while he thought the strike action was regrettable, he reserved the right of the teachers to take industrial action.

The Premier would not confirm if the Government is looking at increasing its wages offer.

“They want more support, particularly for dealing with kids with special needs,” he acknowledged.

“That might be behavioural, educational or whatever. We’ve heard that very clearly and we’re working with the union to reach agreement on that package.”

Treasurer Rita Saffioti said on Monday that the Government’s offer was fair and there was no need for the strike.

She said the Government was willing to continue negotiating.

“We’ve got a very, very good offer on the table ... we ask them to positively engage with us,” Saffioti said on Monday.

“We understand that everyone always wants more, but from a Government perspective, we’re going to balance the ability to fairly give wage rises but also manage the entire budget.”

In related news, public school leaders are also considering industrial action from next week after the Principals Federation of WA (PFWA), which is negotiating on behalf of school leaders and deputies, also rejected a second pay offer from the Government.

The PFWA has been negotiating with the Government on behalf of its members since October 2023 for a new agreement that will improve salaries and conditions.

“The recent offer from the Government does not provide sufficient incentive for the PFWA to sign, the membership has become increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in recognising the importance of school leaders in ensuring our schools continue to provide the conditions in which staff, students and community thrive,” a statement from PFWA read.

“The Executive has therefore taken the decision to direct members to undertake industrial action from Monday, April 29.

“The action decided upon is aimed solely at disrupting the operations of the employer and will not disadvantage schools or students.”

The union said that the responsibilities and accountabilities that go with the role of school leadership have been building to the point where school leaders feel overwhelmed, and has asked that communities “inform Government that the status quo is no longer good enough”.