TAFE Newsflash 26 March 2020
“There is no business as usual. Everything is COVID-19”
The QTU wishes it could claim credit for this quote. It sums up the current situation perfectly. Schools and the public providers of VET (TAFE Qld and CQU) will not be operating on a normal basis for the foreseeable future.
The issue is how to maximise the educational opportunities of Queensland students in the middle of a pandemic. It is, accurately, an unprecedented situation with time and patience in as short supply as hand sanitiser.
Though some in authority have come very belatedly to the realisation, the provision of education is a fundamental provision of a civilised society. If anything, educational professionals want to avoid students “losing a year of education” more than the general population.
There is a balance to be struck between:
- the health and safety concerns of teachers (including the working from home provisions for vulnerable teachers)
- the continued provision of education to students
- the impossibility of changing the mode of education delivery while still teaching as usual
- supporting the provision of other essential services during the pandemic.
As communicated on 23 March, the QTU is aware of the concerns of members and is working for solutions.
The Queensland Government has a firm position on the continuation of educational delivery, particularly for students who are workers in essential industries. That is not the same as the ill-considered “anyone with a job” definition of an essential worker given by the Prime Minister.
The QTU is pursuing discussions with both state and federal governments regarding the ongoing provision of vocational education in the current environment.
TAFE Queensland and CQUniversity
The QTU has consulted with both TAFE Queensland and CQUniversity as the public providers of vocational education continuing to operate and provide an essential service to the Queensland community as required.
Both TAFE Qld and CQU have assured the QTU that the health and safety of staff and students is paramount. Both organisations are transitioning to online or other flexible delivery modes where possible and putting in place working from home or other provisions for vulnerable staff. It’s important to recognise that the very nature of vocational education and training embeds practical training for our students, particularly apprentices and trainees, and our educators are committed to providing this training where safe to do so.
If you have concerns regarding the conduct of face-to-face classes and effective personal distancing in class situations, put the concerns in writing to management and human resources so they can identify solutions. It is important that staff inform their own manager locally of any issues so they can be dealt with locally and immediately. Improvements can be delayed unnecessarily if the reporting of issues or concerns excludes the local manager. Equally, if there is no joy on the issue with the local manager, then senior managers can provide additional assistance. If the local management is ignored or bypassed, it is can actually contribute to making the work situation less safe. It is reasonable to include the Union as a CC to any such communication.
Queensland Health has determined that those most at risk of serious infection if they contract COVID-19 are staff:
- with compromised immune systems (such as people who have cancer)
- with chronic medical conditions
- over the age of 60, particularly when combined with a chronic medical condition
- who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly over the age of 50.
For additional information, please refer to the Queensland Health website.
Working from home
If it is not possible for you to be at work because you are a vulnerable worker or you have other responsibilities such as being a primary caregiver for a vulnerable person, you must get medical advice and commence discussions with your supervisor.
If you are unable to perform your duties from home, or can only perform a portion of your duties, discuss with your supervisor taking some form of leave or working a fractional arrangement and taking the rest of the time as leave. TAFE Queensland and Central Queensland University each have approaches to this and local enquiries should be made.
TAFE Queensland and CQUniversity have both reported increases in cleaning regimes in terms of cleaning levels and/or frequency, whether by providing extra staffing or through contractual arrangements with external providers.
Please be aware that the cleaning staff know the critical role that they play in reducing risk of contracting COVID-19. Please treat them with respect.
If you have concerns regarding cleaning levels or frequency, in the first instance raise them with management and human resources.
Procedures already in place
- Vulnerable workers should identify themselves and discuss with management alternative working arrangements.
- Students with flu-like symptoms should be sent home with the backing of the Chief Medical Officer’s directive.
- Staff with flu-like symptoms should stay home on sick leave.
- Arrangements are being made for access for teachers working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities going into lockdown.
- Vulnerable students should remain at home.
Each state is in a different stage of response to COVID–19, and therefore each state has a different response in VET provision at this stage. It is also clear that each state’s TAFE system has differing levels of preparedness to move to alternative modes of teaching and working.
- TAFE NSW is pausing all training and educational delivery starting Monday 30 March. From 27 April, TAFE NSW will re-commence delivery to students through connected and blended delivery. This may involve face-to-face where necessary.
- In Victoria, each of the 16 individual TAFE institutions and dual sector entities are making local decisions regarding operations and alternative modes of teaching and working.
- In South Australia, it appears that TAFE remains open.
- As of 24 March, Western Australia’s TAFEs are open and in the process of transitioning to online modes of delivery.
- TasTAFE is currently open and is transitioning to online learning as much as possible. Practical learning and assessment continues in very small groups. Most teachers are starting to deliver courses in the online environment.
- In the ACT, classes were initially paused for one week to allow transition to alternate modes of delivery. Following the confirmation of a staff member testing positive to COVID-19, classes are now suspended until the scheduled Easter break (Friday 10 April).
The situation is fluid and it is possible that tomorrow the situation will be different. National Cabinet meetings are being held frequently and upgrading measures regularly.
Is your QTU membership paid?
To maintain your financial status, the closing date for lump sum payment (and discount) is 31 March.
Any member who is having financial difficulties paying should contact the Union so that financial arrangements can be made, and you can maintain full rights and benefits of QTU membership.
Authorised by Kate Ruttiman, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union
21 Graham Street, Milton, QLD, Australia, 4064