No.10, 19 August 2013

TAFE EB 2013 Update – DETE Appeals QIRC Decision

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) has approved an application from the QTU (supported by Together Queensland, United Voice and other public sector unions) for TAFE enterprise bargaining (EB) to be arbitrated. DETE has now advised that it is appealing this decision to the Industrial Court.

Background

For educational staff in TAFE, the current TAFE Certified Agreement expired on 30 June 2013 but will continue to apply until a new certified agreement has been finalised. DETE presented a proposal for a new certified agreement to the QTU in mid-April. The QTU provided its log of claims at the same time. The parties met on a regular basis until late June, when DETE announced its intention to produce a new proposed certified agreement that would apply to all TAFE staff, including administrative and support staff. On 15 July, the QTU requested the intervention of the QIRC to assist with negotiations.

It is the QTU’s view that:

  • the original DETE proposal was unacceptable;
  • no progress was made in negotiations to address the unacceptable features of the DETE proposal;
  • the revised proposal was worse than the original proposal;
  • separate certified agreements should continue to exist for educational and administrative and support staff.

On this basis the QTU asked the QIRC to arbitrate a TAFE education employees only certified agreement (CA). DETE argued that it should be allowed to conduct a ballot of all TAFE employees on its revised offer.

It is clear that the inclusion of TAFE administrative and support staff in the revised offer was a cynical ploy to gain acceptance of the offer. Feedback from educational staff (including a QTU ballot in which 99 per cent of voters rejected the original offer), clearly showed that the original proposal was never going to be accepted by educational staff. A “yes” vote would have been used by DETE to seek immediate certification of the proposed offer.

On 30 July, the QIRC approved the QTU’s application for arbitration of an education staff only CA. This prevents DETE from conducting a ballot. DETE has appealed the QIRC decision to the Industrial Court.

Unacceptable features of DETE’s proposed agreement

The DETE offer represents the most significant threat to the salaries and conditions of TAFE teachers in the history of TAFE.

  • The current incremental scale is to be abolished.
  • Employees currently receiving a salary above the three proposed salary levels (nearly 80 per cent of educational staff) will have their current salaries “grand parented”, meaning their salary will be frozen until it falls below the proposed new salary points.
  • Employees can receive additional remuneration payments (ARPs), but these are at the discretion of the institute director and are likely to be characterised by:
    • restricted access, whereby only some employees will receive the payments;
    • inequitable access across and within institutes and delivery areas;
    • inconsistencies and anomalies in the processes and practices relating to access.
  • Teachers who are on grand parented salaries can be compelled to perform ARP duties without any additional remuneration.
  • Teacher timetables are to be determined at the discretion of the institute director; teachers can potentially be timetabled up to a maximum of 36.25 hours face to face teaching per week without any non-contact time.
  • The spread of hours in the teaching day has been increased by 3 hours per day Monday to Friday (6am to 10pm); Saturday (6am to 10pm) is now officially part of the ordinary working week.
  • Access to overtime will be significantly reduced.
  • Non-attendance time (NAT) is to be abolished.
  • Any reference to class sizes and other “policy matters” will be expunged from the certified agreement (and award).

Talking to TAFE Administrative and Support Staff

It is important for QTU TAFE members to talk to their administrative and support colleagues to explain the QTU’s position, particularly our opposition to a combined TAFE offer.

Here are some salient points:

  • This is about more than a salary rise. The revised DETE offer is an integral part of a number of initiatives designed to destroy TAFE as a premier public VET provider and reduce it to the status of just another RTO in the training market. 
  • Administrative and support staff would have been asked to approve an agreement that radically reduces the conditions of TAFE educational staff.
  • The revised offer was delivered on a “take it or leave it” basis with only a limited opportunity for the public service unions to develop a counter claim or to negotiate changes for administrative or support staff.
  • Contrary to DETE’s assertions, there is no impediment to prevent the government and DETE providing a wage increase to TAFE administrative and support staff. The conditions that are stopping them doing so are conditions that they have set.
  • When employees transition to the new TAFE Queensland statutory authority, they will lose the status of “public servant” and the protections embedded in the Public Service Act, Directives and Regulations (including provisions relating to grievances; long service, special and sick leave; and allowances). The offer also includes provisions to facilitate the introduction of shift work for administrative and support staff.
  • There is no guarantee that the Government will honour the proposed arrangements. The Minister has the power under the Queensland TAFE Act to issue a “transfer regulation” to move staff across to the new TAFE Queensland statutory authority. This can set wages and conditions for staff that over-ride industrial agreements, awards and legislation. DETE was specifically asked by the public service unions if it would guarantee that any industrial instrument(s) applying at the time of transfer of TAFE employees would be reflected in full in the Ministerial transfer regulation. DETE refused to give this assurance.
  • Not all administrative and support staff will move to the new TAFE Queensland statutory authority. For example, with the hiving off of current TAFE facilities to an independent body, the status of cleaning and maintenance staff is unclear at best. Acceptance of the offer does not mean it will apply to all staff who are eligible to vote.

Preparing for Arbitration or a Ballot

As noted above, DETE has appealed the Commission decision. The QTU will argue that the QIRC decision should stand.

Arbitration will proceed if the DETE appeal is unsuccessful. Arbitration provides the only chance to improve on the current DETE offer. In arbitration the QTU will have an opportunity to present its log of claims and respond to the objectionable aspects of the DETE claim.

If the DETE appeal is successful, it is likely that DETE will conduct a ballot of all TAFE employees. If this is the case, respectful engagement by QTU members with all of their fellow TAFE employees will be absolutely critical. We need to stand together for the future of TAFE.

The QTU will continue to provide updates for its members and other TAFE staff.