TAFE newsflash, 20 April 2020
Everything remains COVID-19
Everything is different and everything is the same.
As we all spend more time in our own company than is normally recommended (except for the introverts among us), Term 2 beckons. The professional educators of the public providers have spent three weeks retooling to make sure that our students have access to the best and safest vocational education possible. There is no doubt that the circumstances are challenging and many of us are faced with adopting methodologies that are uncomfortable. For others, the circumstances provide an opportunity to try the new approaches we’ve wanted to, but haven’t been able to find the time to adopt.
In returning to deliver vocational education post-Easter, 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 challenges of changing the mode of educational delivery
- the need to continue to support the provision of other essential services during the pandemic.
The Queensland Government has a firm position on the continuation of educational delivery, particularly for students who are workers in essential industries.
The QTU continues to engage with both state and federal governments regarding the ongoing provision of vocational education in the current environment and the support of all levels of government for the public provider of vocational education and training. We are particularly concerned with the circumstances of the public provider post COVID-19, and continue to advocate for changes to national and state VET policy.
TAFE Queensland and CQUniversity
The QTU continues to consult 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 have transitioned to online or other flexible delivery modes where possible, and have worked to put in place working from home or other provisions for vulnerable staff. We again recognise that the very nature of vocational education and training is to put theory into practice during training, particularly for apprentices and trainees. This is the strength of VET, and our educators are committed to providing this training where it is safe to do so.
With regards to hours of work and timetabling, in the first instance educators should be having programming discussions within teams and with managers. At this extraordinary time, it is necessary to examine our assumptions and consider what is reasonable given the circumstances. We cannot simply do what we have done in the past in most cases. That said, the working conditions of educators remain unchanged. The QTU encourages members to have the professional conversation within their teams to work out what can be done and who is doing what. Most teams will already have had these conversations and planned a way forward.
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 can contribute to making the work situation less safe. It is reasonable to include the Union as a CC to any such communication.
Staffing - vulnerable workers
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 65, 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
Vulnerable workers should already have been identified and be working from home.
The QTU reiterates that 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.
If you have concerns regarding cleaning levels or frequency, in the first instance raise them with management and human resources.
Please be aware that the cleaning staff know the critical role that they play in reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19. Please treat them with respect.
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.
Supporting international students in TAFE Queensland
TAFE Queensland has approximately 2,600 international student visa holders and approximately 500 other visa holders studying across the state.
The closure of many business in response to the COVID -19 pandemic is impacting negatively on TAFE Queensland international students. Given that many international students support themselves by working in the hospitality and tourism industries while studying, and these industries are the most significantly affected by the social distancing requirements, substantial numbers within this cohort will be without income for the foreseeable future. There has been no acceptance of any obligation on behalf of the federal government to provide assistance to international students – indeed it has informed them that if they are not in a position to support themselves, they should consider returning to their home countries. For many, there is no capacity to return home and no capacity for families to provide material support to them while they are studying in Australia.
TAFE Queensland International has been providing support to students in need through donations from staff, community organisations and charities. To date, more than 250 students have been provided with support.
If you would like to assist, you can donate non-perishable items or supermarket vouchers at South Bank and Mt Gravatt campuses.
Please contact TAFE Queensland International for further details.
Is your QTU membership paid?
We know it’s possible for things to slip in times like these. Any member who is having financial difficulties should contact the Union so that financial arrangements can be made enabling you to maintain the full rights and benefits of QTU membership.
Don’t forget that the Union offers direct debit facilities, with 10 payments spread out through the year. By taking advantage of the direct debit mechanism you can set and forget your payment knowing that you’re always protected and have full access to Union services.