1995: Non-contact time secured for all
Probably the principal industrial advancement for teachers in the nineties was the achievement of non-contact time (NCT) for non-secondary teachers as an award entitlement.
Once the Union won NCT for secondary teachers in 1972, inequity existed between their conditions and those of primary, special and pre-school teachers.
Early efforts to extend NCT were hampered by the perceived impracticality of applying time-tabled NCT to the traditional paradigm of “one teacher to one class” full-time, which was reinforced by the proprietorial attitude of some teachers towards “their” classes; and the concern of some principals that the delivery of NCT to teachers should not also result in “NCT for pupils.”
However, more positive attitudes gradually developed with QTU encouragement, and campaigns in the early 90s - initially based on the proposal that primary and special education teachers not attend lessons taken by physical education and music specialists - resulted in an agreement with the department in May 1994. Under this agreement, one hour NCT would initially be delivered through the specialist teacher model.
However, implementation was inconsistent, with anomalies and resistance generated mainly by the department refusing to limit the teaching hours of specialist teachers.
After negotiations dissolved in October 1994, the Union responded by lodging an application in the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) for a minimum two hours NCT for all primary, pre-school and special education teachers. This resulted in a major full-bench case over 10 sitting days in July/August 1995, with the QTU presenting 25 witnesses – necessary to represent the range of professional roles and workloads in schools of varying sizes and specialisations. Given that the case was the first IRC experience for most Union witnesses, they generally performed very effectively.
Unsurprisingly, the department opposed the claim, pleading cost and implementation problems.
On 10 November 1995, the full bench released its decision, stating: “We support the notion of extending non-contact time to two hours for primary, special and preschool teachers – the second hour . . . should be phased in over a two year period with the first phase commencing in 1997.”
While not delivering the desired award provision of NCT, the IRC’s decision – which also included guidance and provisions for supervised negotiations – provided a framework for the development of an industrial agreement on the conditions for the delivery of the first hour of NCT, and subsequently the second.
However – again unsurprisingly – negotiations were prolonged and frustrating, with the department inventing various, mostly spurious objections and provisos.
Nevertheless, the envisaged agreement was concluded and registered with the IRC in June 1996. Implementation issues continued initially, however, especially over the provision for the aggregation of NCT, under which it could not be provided in weekly half to one-hour blocks (undoubtedly, teaching principals and some specialist teachers will have experiences of this issue).
But while complete parity of working conditions remains a Union objective, the extension of at least two hours NCT to non-secondary teachers was an important and welcome amelioration to workloads, and hence work stress reduction.
Finally, retrospective gratitude should extend to the QTU members who participated in the various NCT industrial campaigns, and especially to the 25 members who appeared as witnesses in the significant IRC case.
Former Industrial Advocate for the QTU and Life Member
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 119 number 2, 125th Anniversary Special Edition, p18-19