When Damien Marchant took over as president of his AEU sub-branch, it didn’t take him long to spot a pattern in the complaints members were bringing to him. Workload. Workload. Workload. Instead of addressing chronic staff shortages, management at Gordon TAFE relied on teachers to take on Excess Teaching Duty Hours (ETDH).
“The TAFE has been overscheduling every week, which means every week you have teachers on small time fractions being asked to work excess hours,” Damien says. “There’s a lot of emotional blackmail that goes with that.”
It’s not a situation that is unique to the Gordon Institute. AEU member Shane Wright says that it’s also been standard practice at his TAFE for years, and that it all comes down to management looking for the cheapest option.
“My opinion is that it’s used to increase their profit margin because when you have teachers employed on excess, you don’t have to pay them as much,” Shane says.
With excess hours having become an expected part of every teacher’s duties, few feel able to say no. “The TAFE is working teachers to the maximum allowed ETDH every week. For some, it might even be as high as 200 hours.”
This reliance on excess hours not only makes it harder for teachers to find stable work, it also does a disservice to the students, Shane adds. “Because you’re on a smaller time fraction than you should be, something has to suffer. Your increased workload can lead to a poor experience for the classes you teach.”
Damien says a number of staff had become desensitised to these conditions. Few were aware that the TAFE wasn’t properly accounting for planning and correction time or the work that was being displaced. Under the TAFE agreement, teachers must be allocated half an hour of planning and preparation time for every hour of teaching.
With excess hours having become an expected part of every teacher’s duties, few feel able to say no.
The AEU has now advocated to management at the Gordon on behalf of overloaded members, resulting in sizeable backpay claims. “I sat down with two guys today who are probably owed at least $10.5K each,” Damien says.
Shane’s sub-branch has also had a win. Teachers at his TAFE weren’t being awarded the correct amount of superannuation on their ETDH, but the AEU’s negotiations have resulted in affected members getting a boost to their super – dating as far back as six years.
While the backpay is welcome, Damien sees the claims as a blunt instrument to draw attention to the problem of chronic staff shortages and the need to make his workplace fairer for members. “If we’re expected to take on an extra day, they have to remember that the work we usually do doesn’t go away. Our claim is a true reflection of the work teachers are actually doing.”
The obvious answer – and cheaper option – would be to hire enough staff to do the work that needs to be done. “If you do eight hours of excess, you’re also entitled to four hours of overtime. Because those duties fall on Saturdays, that means one day of excess teaching generates 12 hours of overtime.” In short, it’s cheaper to hire teachers at their correct time fraction.
Over at Shane’s TAFE, the sub-branch has been encouraging members to make sure their teaching-related duties are reduced – to allow for planning and correction time – when taking on excess hours. He is aware, however, that this puts pressure on individuals to negotiate their hours, which some feel uncomfortable doing.
“There’s a system in place for this to actually work,” Shane says. “But if it’s ignored, then the teachers come off second best.”
Members at the Gordon Institute had been worried about raising complaints about excess hours, given the pressure to take on extra workload, but the claims – and the AEU’s advocacy – have cleared the air for more productive discussions.
“We’ve had some good, open conversations,” Damien says. “In the end, hiring more teachers will make life easier for management. Financially and ethically, it just makes sense.”
Q. Staff shortages at my TAFE means some teachers are being asked to teach excessive hours and not being given proper planning and preparation time. Can management get away with this?
A. The AEU is aware that many TAFE teachers are experiencing dramatic increases in workload, well above their contracted hours, with some expected to agree to excessive Excess Teaching Duty Hours, and not always being paid correctly for the additional hours worked. We are also hearing reports of teachers not being allocated the required half-hour for planning and preparation for every hour of teaching. The union has successfully addressed this situation for several members, so any members in this situation should reach out to their AEU rep or contact the Member Support Centre for advice.