TAFE & Adult Provision TAFE wins set a precedent

AEU and NTEU members rally at Swinburne University of Technology in August 2022. Photo: Sam Danby

Sometimes the biggest wins are achieved off the back of extended battles. That was the case during the state election campaign when the Labor government finally stepped up to meet the AEU’s decade-long call for at least 70% of VET funding to go directly to TAFE.

It was a historic win that backs in the strength of the AEU and the essential role of TAFE, says Victorian branch president Meredith Peace. “Thousands of Victorians depend on public TAFE to access high-quality education and training. Our TAFEs need and deserve this funding security.”

Labor has also pledged to expand fee-free TAFE courses and provide additional investment in TAFE infrastructure across the state. “Expanding the eligibility for enrolment in fee-free TAFE courses to all Victorians will support efforts to address staffing shortages in many industries by removing existing barriers to TAFE training,” says Meredith. “This is especially important for lower socio-economic, culturally and linguistically diverse, and rural and regional communities and women.”

Elaine Gillespie, AEU vice president for TAFE and Adult Provision, has welcomed the hard-fought-for win, which she says will go a long way to repairing the damage wrought by the former state Liberal government, which cut a devastating $300 million from the sector.

“Thousands of Victorians depend on TAFE to access high-quality education and training. TAFEs need this funding security.”

Meredith Peace

The policy also brings Victoria in line with the new federal Labor government’s approach to TAFE funding. “It’s an amazing start,” says Elaine. “While Labor has not yet ‘saved’ TAFE, they’ve gone a long way to improving it.”

She is heartened by the renewed focus on the three critical areas of need identified in Jenny Macklin’s Future Skills report: clean energy, the care economy, and the digital economy. But more funding is needed to enable TAFE to meet the costs of course delivery and student support.

“The student per-contact hour rate is not enough to cover the cost of running many courses, and we also need to ensure that we have the appropriate number of educators to deliver them,” she says.

“We went from having around one teacher to every 24 students in a theory class to, all of a sudden, 250 students in a lecture theatre, and that’s not TAFE pedagogy. If we want students to complete their courses with the kind of high-level skills our industries need, then teachers need to be able to focus on ensuring every student has mastered those skills.”

The union will continue to campaign tirelessly for a fully funded TAFE sector, having recently secured an impressive win at Swinburne, after management locked out union members for undertaking what were legally protected work bans in support of their campaign for a better workplace agreement.

AEU members campaigning for TAFE over the years. Photos: AEU archive

“Members getting active is vitally important to get the right outcomes.”

Kate Wiggins

The aggressive move backfired, forcing management back to the negotiating table. In a stunning about-turn, an agreement was reached and passed by 97% of members, with the AEU and NTEU presenting a united front, underlining the power of union solidarity.

“TAFE teachers deserve respect, and conditions in line with their tertiary colleagues. This agreement sets a precedent in dual-sector workplaces for 17% super, and we’ve already started work on the log of claims for VU and RMIT,” says Elaine. “Those members are very aware of what was achieved at Swinburne, and that’s what they want too.”

AEU organiser Kate Wiggins says she’s proud of the members’ collective win. “The overreach by the employer helped our members, many of whom are in insecure employment, understand that it was time to respond to that ruthlessness accordingly.”

Having AEU reps in the negotiating room was pivotal, Kate said. “The courage I saw from the reps at the table – how they spoke about their value and why members deserve respect – was very inspiring. Members getting active is vitally important to get the right outcomes.”

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