9 December 2015 | Download as PDF

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 wages 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.

Award modernisation

One of the first acts of the new Queensland government was to remove elements of the industrial relations legislation that would have stripped hard-won working conditions from awards and agreements.  The government has also committed to a full review of the Industrial Relations Act which is underway. 

The award modernisation process for TAFE will continue in early 2016 with a Queensland Industrial Relations Commission conference in February to hear from the parties to the award which includes the QTU. The QTU understands that TAFE Queensland maintains the view that there ought to be “one inside the gate” award to cover all TAFE workers including teachers, grounds staff and administration teams. The QTU insists that TAFE teachers should be covered by a separate award that recognises the nuances of the teaching profession.

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.

 Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union