Victorian teachers are ready to skip school after a court bid failed to quash a planned mass strike over their lengthy pay dispute with the state government.
The Federal Court dismissed the government's application on Thursday for an interim injunction to force the Australian Education Union (AEU) and Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) to call off their industrial action over pay and conditions.
Justice Christopher Jessup said the government had failed to convince him that the public school teachers' action was unprotected and unlawful.
He also questioned the state's motive for seeking the injunction almost two years after the pay dispute began.
"If your case was a good one, it might have been the subject of this very litigation eight to nine months ago," he said.
Michael McDonald SC, for the government, argued the unions' action would hurt good-faith bargaining talks between the parties, which have resumed this week.
"This process will be undermined if industrial action goes ahead," he told the court.
Next Thursday's 24-hour work stoppage would also cause a "very substantial level of disruption", Mr McDonald said, adding that a previous statewide strike had left 362 of the state's 1500 schools without teachers.
Richard Niall SC, representing both unions, said their industrial action was defensible due to a "reasonable belief" that it was protected under Fair Work legislation.
The AEU launched a television ad on the same day as the proceedings, accusing the Baillieu government of slashing the state's education budget .
AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace said the court action was an unnecessary stunt, a waste of taxpayers' money and a distraction.
"We know it's at the negotiating table that this dispute will be sorted out," she told reporters, adding the TV campaign would highlight the education cuts and remind the community of the teachers' pay dispute.
"This government has been responsible for over $2 billion in cuts and broken promises to public education, including VCAL and literacy and numeracy coaches, and they have cut $300 million from our public TAFEs."
Premier Ted Baillieu would not reveal how much the court action was costing taxpayers, but said the government would not back down.
"We make no apology for pursuing what we believe is unlawful activity," he told parliament.
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the courts had rejected the government's approach to the teachers' dispute.
"Teachers are entitled to not a dollar more or a dollar less than Ted Baillieu promised them. That's all they're asking for," he told reporters.
Departmental negotiators will meet with the AEU again on Friday.
Finance Minister Robert Clark said while the government was disappointed by the federal court's decision, legal action will continue, with the government asking the court to rule that a range of items in the unions' log of claims may not be included in the EBA, rendering future industrial action unlawful.
"The AEU's latest proposal, if not matched by productivity offsets, remains way beyond government wages policy and is unsustainable," he said.
The dispute is set to continue in court, with Justice Jessup ordering a directions hearing on February 22.