While the AEU continues to break new ground for its members regarding secure employment, the battles are ongoing.
In 2011, the ACTU established a panel to conduct an inquiry into insecure work led by former deputy prime minister Brian Howe AO. Mr Howe and his panel conducted hearings around Australia and received hundreds of submissions on the prevalence and effects of insecure work.
In its groundbreaking 2012 report, Lives On Hold, the inquiry found that 40% of Australian workers were employed in insecure work. Mr Howe noted that: Contrary to the views of some in the business lobby that workers are attracted to casual and temporary work because of the flexibility it offers, the evidence we heard confirms that there are [a] huge number [of] people engaged in insecure work who want more secure and stable working arrangements.
The report drew on evidence provided by the AEU, noting the impact of insecure work on the provision of quality education and on the professional lives of teachers. It quoted the AEU’s statement that there: …is a human story of unsustainable workloads and stress, of financial hardship and unsought career change, of resounding frustration and of deep distrust of management by the workforce.
Mindful of these issues, the AEU has focused heavily on improving job security in recent bargaining rounds. In 2018, the prevalence of casual employment in the TAFE sector had reached obscene levels. At Chisholm Institute of TAFE, for example, 51% of teachers employed on a full-time equivalent (FTE) basis were casuals. On a head-count basis, the percentage would have been much higher. Across the TAFE sector, around 37% of those working on a full-time equivalent basis were employed as casuals (aka ‘sessionals’).
Since 2018, casual employment has been greatly reduced. As of 31 December 2022, there were 1,000 fewer casuals employed in the sector on an FTE basis – down to 389 out of 4,030. Put another way, we have gone from a rate of 37% to 9.7% casual employment for those effectively employed full time. Concomitantly, there are now 1,000 more secure, ongoing FTE employees in the TAFE sector than there were in December 2018.
The TAFE MEA has provisions that make it virtually impossible to employ teachers on a casual basis long term.
This did not happen by magic. And certainly not because TAFEs suddenly decided to do the right thing by their staff. It is the direct result of members winning provisions in the Victorian TAFE Teaching Staff Agreement 2018 (TAFE MEA).
The TAFE MEA has provisions that make it virtually impossible to employ teachers on a casual basis long term. During negotiations, I recall AEU branch president Meredith Peace incredulously asking TAFE representatives: “Why do you need to employ a casual for more than 30 days?!” We ultimately landed on a 13-week cap for casual employment – a dramatic reduction from the permanent casual mode dominating the sector at the time.
There are also clauses requiring TAFEs to review the engagement of casual employees by April every year. This relies on AEU reps and organisers to ensure members are converted to secure jobs.
In the schools sector, casual employment exists at a school council level. Centrally, there are no ‘casual’ employees employed under the Victorian Government Schools Agreement 2022 (VGSA 2022) or its predecessor agreements. The difficulty that the AEU and its members have faced relates to the prevalence of fixed term employment. While this is preferable to casual employment, it creates a raft of difficulties for members personally and professionally.
In the VGSA 2017, the AEU won conversion clauses that mean in May of each year employees can translate from fixed term to ongoing. This year alone, 2,215 employees – 1,578 teachers and 637 education support employees – have translated to ongoing employment under the VGSA 2022. This is the highest rate since these rights were introduced in 2017. Again, these wins do not arise ex nihilo. They occur because of the hard work of AEU members engaged in workforce planning through consultative committees.
While the AEU continues to break new ground for its members regarding secure employment, the battles are ongoing. Employers in all sectors of the AEU seek to erode existing protections – something we are seeing in TAFE negotiations at present. Most importantly, members need to fight for their lawful entitlements to be applied locally, in their workplaces. Where this fails, the AEU can take action to enforce them.
Watch our webinar for teachers and ES on the process of translating to ongoing: www.aeuvic.asn.au/why-are-you-still-contract-translation-ongoing