9 December 2015 | Download as PDF

TO:  QTU MEMBERS IN CENTRAL QUEENSLAND

2015 in review

Twelve months ago the proud history of TAFE and its role as the premier provider of quality vocational education and training in this state was under significant sustained attack. As 2015 draws to a close, it is time to take stock of all that has been achieved in the past 12 months. With the change of government earlier this year, a number of key commitments in vocational education and training and the broader industrial relations system have been realised.

QTU TAFE members can be proud of their efforts over the past three years in:

  • advocating for and succeeding in the Queensland government setting up a Queensland Training Ombudsman
  • advocating for and succeeding in the removal of QTAMA, returning TAFE assets to departmental control
  • advocating for teachers and students over the darkest times TAFE Queensland has ever faced
  • fighting for appropriate dedicated funding for public providers in VET, securing commitments including the $34m saving TAFE funding and restoring $160m to the TAFE budget
  • advocating for an increase in the percentage of permanent TAFE employees
  • engaging in forums regarding the professional status of vocational educators 
  • raising awareness of TAFE Queensland’s plight under the former state government
  • stopping the unprecedented and unfair working conditions that were being imposed on TAFE teachers by the former LNP state government through their award stripping process
  • successfully fighting against pay freezes of up to 10 years for TAFE teachers on annual salaries above the step 4 level
  • successfully retaining all current working and pay conditions, including retaining NAT leave
  • successfully advocating for a 2.5 per cent administrative pay increase back dated to 1 July 2015.

IVTAE restructure and motions of no-confidence 

In August/September action by the Central Queensland University QTU/AEU(Q) branches highlighted serious concerns with the system of middle management in the University’s VET division. Subsequently, there was a change of leadership in the IVTAE division of the University and matters of financial concern came to light. A restructure (formal change proposal) to deal with the financial issues, announced by the University, is currently under consultation. A response to the formal change proposal has been submitted to the University by the QTU/AEU(Q) and is available for members on the QTU website (password required).  

The promise of the merger and the aspirations of employees to the values of the university gave rise to expectations of cultural and systemic change that many educational staff feel have not been realised in their day-to-day working life. There is a great deal of frustration among educators who fear for the viability of their particular work areas and feel that their experience and knowledge are ignored and that any entrepreneurial endeavour is discouraged. It is this frustration and fear that lead to the recent QTU/AEU(Q) branch action. 

As the restructure has progressed, many members have expressed concerns that it has not addressed key areas of concern raised. It is evident in this that many staff have mixed up the restructure with the management issues and see the former as a response to the latter. This is unfortunate and the Union recognises the efforts of the University to clarify at every opportunity that the restructure is a measure to deal with the financial viability of the IVTAE division, not the issues with middle management.

In retrospect, it may have been best to deal with issues raised by the QTU/AEU(Q) branches prior to restructure and this would have gone some way in preventing the current confusion and alleviate some of the frustration.

However, the opportunity could be taken to effect change that will partially address issues raised by the QTU/AEU(Q) branches including:

  • areas of poor communication that have led to systemic failure 
  • overly bureaucratised operations. 

All individuals, regardless of position, should, as a matter of natural justice, have the right of reply to any claims made in the list of concerns and issues provided to University management by the QTU/AEU(Q) on behalf of members. 

Our Union has urged CQU to prioritise the resolution of outstanding matters in order that ill will and frustration be reduced within the organisation.

VET FEE-HELP and Training Ombudsman

In October, the Senate Education and Employment References Committee delivered a report to the Commonwealth government that included 16 recommendations. The recommendations included:

  • that, given the evidence of rampant abuse, accelerating costs, and doubling of bad debt the government launches an immediate review of the operation and regulation of VET FEE-HELP (Recommendation 1); and
  • an Ombudsman focused on domestic students in the VET sector be created, and further suggests that this position be industry-funded (Recommendation 16).

A Federal Training Ombudsman’s office would complement the establishment of a similar Queensland office. Legislation to establish the Queensland Training Ombudsman position was introduced by the Palaszczuk government on the first of December.

The past few weeks since the Senate report have highlighted the need for the Commonwealth government to address multiple examples of systemic failure and rampant abuse of the contestable vocational education marketplace. Media reports highlight examples of these failings such as for-profit RTO Empower graduating only five students from an enrolment base of 4000; the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) condemnation of another, Phoenix, for “false, misleading, and unconscionable conduct”, and the collapse of one of the largest private providers, vocation, leaving 12,000 students with an uncertain future.

Amendments to legislation that were passed by the Commonwealth Parliament last week include pausing payments to training providers for new enrolments until concerns about poor performance are addressed. In addition, there is a freezing of the total loan limit for existing VET FEE-HELP providers to 2015 levels, and new entry requirements have been introduced before an RTO can become a VET FEE-HELP provider.

The Australian Education Union has called for VET FEE-HELP to be shut down while a full inquiry is carried out and notes that the government’s proposed inquiry does not go far enough. AEU Federal TAFE Secretary Pat Forward has stated that “This is the third attempt at tightening regulation of VET FEE-HELP and, likely to have as little effect as the previous two.”

The failures of the private sector further underline the QTU’s calls for a quarantine of at least 70 per cent of Queensland taxpayer funds for TAFE as the premier provider of vocational education and training and as a public institution committed to people, not profits. 

Stolen wages

The QTU has long been an active voice in supporting the Stolen Wages campaign. Union Reps are asked to support the campaign by making sure workers or their descendants who might be eligible for payments have their details registered. The best way to register details is to call the Stolen Wages Reparations Taskforce on 1800 619 505. For more information, see the QTU website.

As you head off for the well-deserved end of year holiday, remember to take time to refresh and reward yourselves for a year of hard work and professionalism.  We look forward to continue to working with and on behalf of members in 2016.