TAFE & Adult Provision Swinburne attack on teaching staff

AEU and NTEU members locked out of work at Swinburne Uni. Photos: Sam Danby

When members took lawful industrial action after years of thwarted negotiations, Swinburne management responded with unprecedented aggression.

Dozens of TAFE members and their supporters rallied outside Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus on 18 August, following the university’s unprecedented attack on staff, standing down teachers without pay for taking lawful industrial action.

On 11 August, management at Swinburne University of Technology sent out an aggressive email to staff, effectively locking workers out of their workplace and preventing them from educating their students. The AEU, the NTEU and the broader union movement have been outraged by this move to stand down teachers who were implementing partial work bans following two years of campaigning for a decent pay rise and for superannuation in line with their Swinburne University colleagues.

At the rally, AEU president for TAFE Elaine Gillespie told the crowd: “The reason we are here today is because Swinburne has taken aggressive action. For two years we’ve been trying to get a fair deal with Swinburne. We want equal pay with every other vocational teacher in the state. We’ve been here throughout the pandemic. These actions from Swinburne are unprecedented. Shame on them!”

“This action by a publicly funded institute with an obligation to provide education is shameful.”

Meredith Peace


Negotiations at the institute have been protracted and challenging, with Swinburne management delaying discussions and cancelling meetings in the hope that members will tire of the bans and accept a lower offer. TAFE teachers working at the Croydon, Wantirna and Hawthorn campuses have been engaging in limited work bans as part of the long-running fight for a fair outcome.

Earlier in the year, members at Swinburne voted down a proposed non-union agreement that would have seen their teachers become the lowest paid in the state. Both the AEU and NTEU were shocked when management presented a final offer with several clauses, including salaries, yet to be finalised in negotiations.

The unions ran strong ‘vote no’ campaigns, resulting in 84% of eligible employees rejecting Swinburne’s offer. The unions have been calling on Swinburne to return to the table to bargain in good faith on the many clauses yet to be addressed.
AEU Victorian branch President Meredith Peace has described this latest move from Swinburne as “disgraceful” and condemned the university for resorting to bullying tactics.

“It’s astounding that Swinburne would rather stand down its hard-working and incredibly crucial staff than provide them with fair and reasonable pay, superannuation and other important conditions.”

Meredith Peace


“This action by a publicly funded institute with an obligation to provide education is shameful,” says Peace. “Our members want to pursue this in good faith through bargaining, but university management has completely disregarded this, refusing to make an offer that respects teachers and addresses their concerns.

“Instead, they have resorted to intimidating their staff with threats that ultimately have consequences for the students. Standing down staff will stop TAFE courses being delivered at Swinburne because students will not have teachers to deliver them.

“It’s astounding that Swinburne would rather stand down its hard-working and incredibly crucial staff than provide them with fair and reasonable pay, superannuation and other important conditions.

“The university has left us in a difficult position by escalating the matter to this extent. We have no option but to undertake legal action if they do not withdraw their notice and return to the bargaining table.”


Despite Swinburne management’s attempts to intimidate staff into lifting their bans, AEU and NTEU members have voted to continue their protected industrial action. Their work bans include not recording student attendance, not attending meetings, not using online systems, and not doing extra duties on top of those set out in their position description.

A follow-up staff email from Swinburne management went out on 15 August denouncing the industrial action, reiterating that any staff engaging in any of the bans will not be entitled to any payment for that day.

As a result of Swinburne management’s actions, members will not be attending their workplace. The AEU has set up a strike fund of up to $200 per day for individual workers affected by Swinburne management’s decision to withhold pay.

The AEU and the NTEU are committed to achieving a fair and reasonable outcome for members, and will continue calling on Swinburne management to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a deal that respects the value of their TAFE teachers.

TAFE teachers speak out

TAFE teachers, top L-R: Matt, Rowena, Dean, Nadine. Bottom L-R: Alex, James, Dave, Phil. Photos: Sam Danby

Matt

“We want leadership, not dictatorship.”

Rowena

“The teachers work so hard to keep our programs going. We just want respect for the work we’ve done for the past two years, and recognition of the work that’s involved in teaching here. It’s about secure jobs. I’ve been on a short-term contract since 2009. In my department, there would be about 40 on a short-term contract; only three ongoing teachers in our area.

“The letter [from management] was very aggressive. It made you feel very vulnerable. I love my job; the students and my teaching colleagues are amazing – collaborative and supportive. You do work that’s important but don’t feel cared for as an employee. This last week has been the hardest week in my working life. It has been quite distressing to be put in this situation.”

Dean

“All that we want is to be one Swinburne. Management treats us like we’re second class.”

Nadine

“We’re doing unpaid overtime all the time. Sometimes I start at five o’clock in the morning. It’s out of control. I do at least an additional eight hours a week unpaid overtime. A lot of teachers do. Management says, ‘That’s just the way it is, you’re not the only ones.’ It’s all about finance and savings.”

James

“One Swinburne – that’s all we want. We want management to respect our conditions. They seem to be trying to erode the conditions continually.

“Our partial bans are not affecting the students. Management is saying we’re using our students in all of this, but it’s the other way around – it’s management doing that.”

Dave

“As a teacher, I love my job and teaching our students. I enjoy passing on my skills and knowledge. An apprenticeship is a pipeline.

“We want to be valued. This two-tier system has to stop. All the way along we’ve been bargaining in good faith. Now it seems like management want to renegotiate things we’ve already agreed on. It will be really scary if we don’t get this agreement over the line.

“We should be able to engage in industrial action. We want to end the two-tier system. We want to be paid equally. We just want a fair deal.”

Phil

“We are hoping they will come to the table and be reasonable about negotiations. It’s about equity with the uni, and decent superannuation.”

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