What a Load of Old Rope

In the late 1980s, Principals participated in a discussion with the Public Service Commissioner about becoming contracted. On offer would be dollars, a car and the promise of executive importance.

Salary offers seemed huge in terms of quantum leap. Contracts would recognise the importance of “Principalship” and recompense the position accordingly. These employment agreements with enhanced remuneration would be four years long – which may have seemed like a stretch into the future!!!

But, with the invitation came non-negotiable positions. Contract Principals would unhinge from the public service with no fall-back position. They would be temporary employees facing the end-game when contracts came up for renewal. However, they felt reassured by conversations and believed that contract renewal might be almost automatic.

Principal’s cars were not add-ons but leasebacks with a salary contribution paying the lease but they came with “free” fuel card. It was the card that sold the option.

“Temporary Contract Principal’s employer benefits” were paid by employee contributions. So principals paid the employer’s contribution to their superannuation. It was no longer salary plus super but salary minus super. However this was touted as salary sacrifice so it was supposed to be good!!

Holiday entitlement changed. Twelve weeks (six on leave and six on stand down) was reduced to five before in more recent years being upgraded to six weeks of annual leave entitlement.

There have been changes by stealth: they are radical and un-negotiated. A major one from around 2006 on was the reduction of four-year contracts to 2 years +2 on extension after a substantial review. Principals performance management around which the review is based are very extensive.

There have been a number of instances in the Territory where Principals were told they formally satisfied Performance Management criteria, only to be shot down a short time later over matters touted as being about their incompetence or inability.

Elsewhere in Australia those in Principals positions retain permanency and a guaranteed baseline salary with extra performance being recognised by higher duty or allowance payments. This recognises the jobs they do but from the viewpoint of assured future positional opportunity. What they have is a fallback position which is about substantive, permanent occupancy. When accepting promotions they don’t have to resign permanent Public Sector positions.

In the Northern Territory, those accepting Executive Principal positions must resign from permanency with the Northern Territory Public Service.

I believe in hindsight that Northern Territory Principals were foolish to accept what are essentially non-guaranteed contracts..

With the passing of time, relativities have changed and contractual benefits have been eroded. “Shrinkage” means that the quantum between salaries paid to contract officers versus others has lessened. The extrinsic factors of benefit between contract and permanent positions have reduced. And at the same time intrinsic rewards (feelings of job satisfaction) have taken a deep dive.

The latest Gunner Government imposition was unheralded and a further attack upon any certainty principals feel about their employment. As temporary officers they have been placed under severe duress by the government’s edict that increments for executive contract holders will be frozen for three years. They have been ordered to sign away their entitlements to recognition as front line people working with students, staff and their communities on a daily basis.

Maybe, Principals are not “Dare to be Daniels”. Maybe they should have spoken out more about issues over the years and been more public in declaring their position on issues. (I can recall in the period prior to contracts becoming the norm that principals were far more confident when articulating their viewpoints on issues.) People on temporary contracts with no fallback position when they conclude, are hardly going to be robust when it comes to publicly countering declared and imposed government employment policy.

In the present bleak context it is to the credit of our Territory Principals and the NT Principals Association that they have taken a firm countering stance.



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