Thousands of NSW public school teachers, bus and train drivers are striking over pay and conditions.
Nearly 400 NSW state schools are closed while others remain open with a skeleton staff supervising students as teachers and principals walk off the job on Tuesday.
The teachers’ union accuses the state government of failing to address unsustainable workloads, uncompetitive salaries and staff shortages.
In scenes reminiscent of the 1980s industrial turmoil, thousands of teachers from Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and the Blue Mountains will rally in Sydney, starting in Hyde Park before marching down Macquarie Street to NSW Parliament.
“This teacher shortage, uncompetitive salaries and unsustainable work loads are too great to ignore,” NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
“We have been trying for 18 months to persuade the government to act as it appears on its own internal evidence that shows that we have a large and growing teacher shortage, and indeed that internal evidence concludes we will run out of teachers in five years,” he said.
Teachers want a pay increase up to 7.5 per cent a year to reverse the decline in their wages compared to other professions.
Mr Gavrielatos said the government was also lacking a coherent strategy to fill 3000 vacant positions and recruit 11,000 teachers the state needs in the next decade.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said teachers had been offered a 2.5 per cent wage increase, the maximum the government could offer under its public sector wages policy. She said the government wanted to work collaboratively with the union addressing teacher shortages.
“We seem to hit a brick wall every time we try to talk about these matters,” she told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
“Children have had a tough year already and parents have been disrupted by COVID and we need to be in the classroom and I am disappointed that they have taken this approach.”
Train and bus services across Sydney and train services to the Hunter Valley, Blue Mountains and Central Coast are being disrupted by industrial action, with 70 per cent of trains not running on Tuesday.
On Monday, bus drivers in Sydney’s inner-west went on strike, with unions calling on the state government to demand its contractor Transit Systems negotiate over a two-tier wage system that has some workers earning less than others for doing the same job.
That industrial action continues on Tuesday with drivers from Sydney’s south-west striking. Drivers from both regions will also stop work for two hours on Friday afternoon.
Bus commuters looking for alternative transport will be short of options, with train drivers refusing to operate the foreign-made trains that run about three-quarters of the services.
Sydney Trains chief executive Matt Longland said the strikes were disappointing after more than 40 meetings between Sydney Trains, NSW TrainLink and the union. However, the union said the leaders they wanted to negotiate with had only just started coming to the table.
The union wants an end to privatisation, safety standards maintained and a commitment to retaining current hygiene levels while not relying on contractors to provide it.
Mr Longland said employees had been offered a 2.5 per cent pay increase, inclusive of superannuation.
Transport for NSW said Tuesday’s strikes meant services would run to a reduced frequency on most lines, make additional station stops and take longer to reach their destination.