The teachers are on strike trying to persuade the government to fulfil a promise to put salaries up according to experience, even though the Ministry of Education failed to factor the pay rises into its 2013 budget. The government has said the strike is illegal. The National Teachers Association has indicated it'll soften its stance if the government doesn't go ahead with any legal action, and is urging the Prime Minister to intervene.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Donald Marahari, legal counsel, National Teachers Association
MARAHARI: As far as the orders of the Trade Disputes I understand, the strike is basically, I'd say not in line with the orders of the TDP, the Trade Dispute Panel and by law it would be deemed illegal.
COUTTS: So why are they going ahead with an illegal strike?
MARAHARI: This is something that has been agreed by all the members, despite being advised of the consequences of their actions. They have decided to take this course on the basis that I think they're demands have not been listened to for awhile and I think basically, they have basically, enough is enough as far as they're concerned, that is their position.
COUTTS: If they continue with what is now deemed an illegal strike, what are some of the penalties the Association and the teachers could attract?
MARAHARI: Oh, well the Trade Dispute Panel as particularly Section 10 of that act is very clear where the party is continue, is undertaking an industrial action when the matters already before the Trade Dispute Panel and in this case, we have orders from the Trade Dispute Panel that was made yesterday and as a particular provision is a very clear in terms of prosecution and the penalty are clearly stipulated.
COUTTS: And what are they?
MARAHARI: They are basically a fine of $1,000, six months imprisonment or both.
COUTTS: For every individual on strike?
COUTTS: Now, the Trade Dispute's Panel, how long has it been sitting, because this dispute has been going on for a very long time?
MARAHARI: Well, the government through the Attorney-General made a referral to the Trade Dispute Panel and the first hearing was yesterday. It was actually, it's a preliminary hearing, but as far as the Trade Dispute Panel is concerned, that is a matter for the parties themselves to sit down and talk over and probably come up with an amicable solution.
The issue really is is about how soon the government can honour its financial commitments, because the government has basically accepted the claims, but it's a matter of time when they're going to make the payment. I think that's the issue before the TDP and that is what the TDP has been asked to rule on yesterday.
COUTTS: As the case is being heard, is your advice to the teachers and the Teachers Association to go back to work?
MARAHARI: Hmm, that is my advice, but again, they simply want their financial claims to be met as soon as possible.
COUTTS: So are they refusing to go back to work?
MARAHARI: That is correct, that is correct.
COUTTS: Because they haven't been heard before and they want something done this time?
MARAHARI: Yes, and basically what the order of the panel yesterday was for the strike to be called off and parties to sit down within the next 14 days and within the 14 days come up with an amicable solution to the issues at hand. But as far as the members that this is a concern, they can't wait too long, the 14 days and the order basically allows the parties to continue to negotiate and as far as the members of the SINTA and the teachers are concerned, there is no clear indication as to whether the government will make payments as soon as possible, so basically, they're not prepared to negotiate what they face ? the government to immediately pay their rash of claims.
COUTTS: But according to the press and a statement that you've made that the Teachers Association has offered to soften its approach to the government. How will they soften it?
MARAHARI: Hmm, that is the, that was the position yesterday and they were expecting the government to actually withdraw this referral and then allow the parties to sit down and talk. But the position of the government is basically that, well, the strike has to be called off. We will then withdraw the referral and then we can talk.
COUTTS: And has the government given any indication whether they'll start charging and penalising the teachers for refusing to go back to work?
MARAHARI: As of after 4.30 yesterday, I haven't heard anything from the government or from the Attorney-General or even from the Attorney-General's chambers.
COUTTS: So the government has actually agreed to pay it, but they just didn't have a budget allocation for it. So how are they going to get around that?
MARAHARI: Hmm, they're position was that come March this year, they're going to work on a supplementary cooperation deal to allow additional expenditure to be made. But to the teachers, well three months or two months down the line is a very long time to them. They can't wait that long.
COUTTS: So the teachers are taking a hard line now. They want to see it in their pay packets before they'll go back to work?
MARAHARI: Yes, basically they have changed from as far as my initial instructions was concerned. They have now changed their position to a more hard stand than yesterday, before the preliminary hearing.