TAFE & Adult Provision Winning respect in TAFE

I imagine having spent years attaining qualifications and then, on a technicality, walking into a job that won’t acknowledge those qualifications – and instead being placed at the bottom of the salary scale, with no way to progress. This is the situation in which many TAFE teachers have found themselves in recent years. It has occurred for teachers at the top of the classification range who were grandfathered across to the equivalent salary rate under the MEA 2018 and then went on to move to another TAFE institute. 

Many of these teachers found themselves positioned at the bottom of the salary range because their diploma qualifications, pre-2018, did not contain a specific unit called ‘Studies in Applied Research’ linked to the holistic, non-prescriptive and internationally recognised Boyer Framework of Scholarship. And it’s happened, too, for TAFE teachers teaching TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and EAL (English as an Additional Language) in Migrant Education Programs, and those teaching VCE in TAFE.

Many of these teachers have AQF6+ qualifications but find themselves positioned at an AQ4+ level on the salary scale. Only their basic TAFE teaching qualification – Certificate IV in Training and Assessment – has been recognised, leaving teachers stranded at Level 1 with no way to increment beyond Level 1 step 2.

This happened to Janette, VCE teacher at a metro TAFE, and she only discovered the error by accident. In a conversation with a friend who taught VCE at a private school, Janette learned she was being paid significantly less for equivalent – and often more intensive – work in the TAFE sector. 

A loophole has led to salaries for VCE teachers in TAFE that are, quite frankly, insulting.

Janette, who was teaching four VCE subjects, realised she didn’t even know her hourly pay rate. “When we moved to the new MEA, we were just slotted in at a lower classification. No one noticed and we just took it for granted,” she says. After speaking to her friend, she thought: “Hang on! I have a Bachelor of Education and a diploma. This doesn’t stand!”

When she checked the payroll system, she discovered she couldn’t even access the information. It took some time, and the assistance of her AEU rep, to establish that she was being paid substantially less than her private-school VCE teacher friend.

The union rep raised the anomaly with the TAFE’s HR department. The result was an acknowledgement by HR that the salary classification was incorrect and an undertaking to deliver backpay to 2018, when the agreement came into force. “For some people teaching VCE in TAFE, it’s a substantial win,” Janette says.

Many TAFE teachers do not have pay parity with their counterparts in the schools sector. A qualification provision in the Victorian TAFE Teaching Staff Agreement 2018, designed as a means of recognising TAFE teachers’ professional qualifications, has backfired, becoming a way of excluding highly experienced and dedicated teachers from accessing salaries in excess of $80,000 per annum.

Some years ago, I spoke to a TAFE teacher who not only had years of experience as a teacher, but also a PhD in Vocational Education. He was blocked from progressing to the highest salary classification because he could not demonstrate that he had studied a single applied research ‘unit’ as part of his PhD.

In individual circumstances, some TAFEs will pay higher duties to teachers in acknowledgement of their experience and qualifications. But, overall, this loophole – and the Victorian TAFE Association’s narrow interpretation of the Boyer Framework’s Applied Research component – has led to salaries that are, quite frankly, insulting. In negotiations for the next TAFE agreement, the AEU is seeking changes to this clause so that the VTA would no longer be able to block legitimate applications for progression along the salary scale.

Janette is still waiting for the backpay, but she’s glad she was proactive on the matter. ‘‘We don’t want battles; we just want to work,” she says. “I want to spend my time creating enjoyable, fun lessons – and being properly remunerated for it.”

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