5 November 2013

Update on Developments in TAFE, 2013 

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The state government’s agenda for the marketisation of TAFE has been constructed on and progressed through the following avenues:

  • the Skills and Training Taskforce
  • the Costello Commission of Audit
  • the TAFE Queensland Act
  • the Queensland VET Investment Plan
  • the TAFE EB offer.

In the course of 2013, there have been a number of significant developments arising from the government’s ideological agenda affecting TAFE and TAFE teachers. These include the establishment of TAFE Queensland as a single statutory authority, preparations for the amalgamation of TAFE institutes, the restructuring of programs and campuses, a transitioning to fully contestable VET funding with funding levels for many courses being cut, a new “entitlement” and fee structure for students, and the widening of access to TAFE facilities for private providers. Importantly, courses are being rationalised and TAFE staffing is still being reduced. There will be further developments in 2014 as TAFE staff transition out of the public service, amalgamations are finalised and fully contestable funding is achieved.

TAFE teachers' conditions have also been affected by government changes to legislation, policy and public service directives. Earlier this year, the government passed amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1999 (Qld) which rendered inoperable certain provisions in existing industrial awards and agreements, notably matters deemed to be “policy-related”. Current draft legislation before the Parliament seeks to curtail even more dramatically the scope of what can be included in these industrial instruments.

TAFE EB

The government EB offer for TAFE teachers, along with changes to industrial relations legislation, was designed to complement the agenda described above by limiting salary levels and reducing TAFE teacher conditions so that TAFE could be more competitive in the VET market. When it became clear that teachers were strongly opposed to this attempted assault on their livelihoods, the government endeavoured to include TAFE administrative staff in the deal. The QTU, with the support of the unions representing non-educational TAFE staff, opposed this and sought the assistance of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (“QIRC”).

The QIRC found that the attempt by the government to include administrative staff was invalid and that there was no possibility of the parties reaching agreement. The QIRC approved the QTU application for the matter to be referred to arbitration. Subsequently, the Department of Education Training and Employment appealed the QIRC decision to the Industrial Court.

Dates for written submissions by the parties have been set. The DETE submission was submitted on 25 October. The QTU will respond by 18 November and DETE will have the opportunity to make a submission in reply to the QTU by 29 November. Dates for hearings of the matter have not been determined and it is likely that these will not take place until 2014. It is expected that hearings will take place before a Supreme Court judge, acting in a dual role as President of the Industrial Court.

In the meantime, with the exception of some matters altered by government legislation, policy or directive, the provisions of the current certified agreement continue to apply. QTU members should continue to assert their professional and industrial rights. Members can contact the QTU for further information, advice and support.

Redundancy provisions in the IR bill

The QTU has received a number of inquiries from members about the potential effects on voluntary redundancy payouts of the recently introduced industrial relations bills.

  • There is a section in the IR bill that sets out minimum employment conditions, including a bit about redundancy.
  • The redundancy provisions in the bill are less than those that currently apply for public servants (including TAFE teachers).
  • However, the provisions are exactly the same as those that are contained in the current IR act.
  • The act sets the minimum entitlement; the new act (when passed) will do the same.
  • The Public Service Directive (11/2) that sets a higher redundancy entitlement for public servants (including TAFE teachers) is unaffected by the proposed new act and overrides it and the current legislation.
  • The QTU has sought and received assurances from DETE and the Public Service Commission that there is currently no intention to change the redundancy entitlements as set out in Directive 11/2.
  • However, given the uncertainty surrounding TAFE, a number of TAFE teachers had expressed concerns that provisions in the bill might be an attempt to reduce entitlements. A recent departmental letter written by Mr T. Barlow was an attempt to re-assure TAFE teachers that the current provisions will remain in place.

There is still the problem that the government has the power to unilaterally change the directive at any time, but it is good to have it in writing that there is currently no intention to do so.