TAFE employers seem to have forgotten, at least momentarily, that they signed a legally binding statutory agreement with their employees and the AEU, with the Victorian TAFE Association (VTA) going on an industrial relations frolic in late November.
It’s not every day that we see employers effectively seeking to rip up a freshly minted agreement. In fact, never before has this happened in the AEU’s many decades of legal and industrial experience.
I know that not much would surprise TAFE members these days, given all that has happened over the past 10 years or so. We have had to endure the introduction of the market model and the funding of dodgy private training organisations by Victorian Labor in 2008, the gutting of TAFEs by the Liberals to the tune of $1.2 billion, and the Dracula-style rorting by for-profit training providers that occurred under their watch.
‘Saving TAFE’ has been the Andrews state government’s mantra since it was elected in 2014. The Premier, the Treasurer and the Minister for Skills have invested heavily to rebuild our TAFEs, including new infrastructure, the Free TAFE initiative and supporting the workforce through the enterprise agreement (MEA) for teaching staff.
This has seen an increase in the number of students attending public TAFEs in comparison to private providers for the first time in many years. However, there is still work to be done, including securing a guaranteed 70% of vocational education and training funding for our public TAFE system.
Saving TAFE has meant a lot more than making TAFEs more financially stable and increasing student enrolments. Without respecting and valuing your work as teachers, public TAFEs would not be able to deliver on their promise to the Victorian community.
Saving TAFE has meant a lot more than making TAFEs more financially stable and increasing student enrolments. Without respecting and valuing your work as teachers, public TAFEs would not be able to deliver on their promise to the Victorian community. Valuing your work was at the heart of the TAFE teacher industrial agreement finalised last year.
The agreement struck with TAFEs and signed by all CEOs was clear: substantial increases to salaries (5.4% per year), a reduction in casual employment, and maximising the number of ongoing positions. Casual jobs have been halved and permanent jobs have increased by 30% since its introduction, along with workload regulation via the required workplans.
In return, AEU members agreed to remove the scheduled/unscheduled hours approach to allocating work. The agreement introduced a wider range of hours a teacher could be timetabled to include evenings and Saturdays, and the allocation of up to 800 hours of teaching and supervision per year (pro rata for part-timers). It was on these measures that the new agreement was costed and supported by the Victorian government.
In mid-November, out of the blue, the VTA made an application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to vary the TAFE MEA. It sought to remove any in-class assessment from the 800 hours of teaching and supervision on the grounds of ‘ambiguity’. Under section 217 of the legislation, the FWC has the power to vary an agreement if uncertainty or ambiguity can be demonstrated.
This action clearly showed that the VTA and TAFEs like the Bendigo Kangan Institute do not understand the agreement they signed up to only 18 months ago. It also seems that several TAFEs did not clearly endorse or agree to being party to the FWC application, which was lodged on their behalf. This beggars belief and calls into question the standing of the VTA and its ability to properly represent Victorian TAFEs.
Upon hearing about the VTA’s application, AEU members immediately swung into action, attending sub-branch meetings and passing resolutions condemning the actions of TAFE CEOs. Within a week, the application was withdrawn.
There is power in our union.