Waiting game for TAFEs

AFTER the stir caused by leaked documents outlining TAFE providers’ transition plans led to a well-attended rally in Melbourne last Thursday, it is now a waiting game for teachers and supporters.

According to Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE Australian Education Union sub-branch president Phil Smith, the rally to protest the $300 million funding cut to the sector was well-attended, with about 2000 TAFE teachers, some students, and supporters gathered in Treasury Gardens.

“We’re waiting to see how things go from here; the TAFE teachers’ statewide enterprise bargaining agreements finish in October, so we’re about to start the next period of negotiation,” Mr Smith said, adding about 30 local teachers and supporters had joined in the rally.

Asked if more industrial actions were to be held, Mr Smith said it “depends on what the rest of the year brings”.

“The main thing for us is people losing jobs and courses (being cut) regionally; as the year winds up we’ll have a better picture of how things are.”

Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall had condemned the unprotected strike action last week, saying it was unnecessary and had inconvenienced students and the community.

“The TAFE’s transition plans show many of them are planning to innovate and focus on courses that help Victorians get jobs,” Mr Hall said in a statement, adding the funding changes would provide all training organisations access to a “record amount of funding”.

Meanwhile, Mr Smith said local TAFE teachers had met with Higher Education and Skills Shadow Minister Steve Herbert last week, who was in Gippsland for closed-door meetings with TAFE administrators and teachers.

Speaking to The Express after his time in Gippsland, Mr Herbert said his meetings with TAFE directors such as GippsTAFE indicated they have “had a gun put to their head to make the transition plans”.

“They were forced to somehow explain to the government how they will continue operating with massive funding cuts; the impacts are more wide-spread than thought,” Mr Herbert said.

“The plans outlined were not practical; looking at the proposals for a collaboration or a merger, to do so properly would require months of drawing up a proper business plan and market analysis, and you can’t do that detailed work in a month.”

He said the victims of the changes included young people who had dropped out of school wanting a second chance.

“They are the ones needing extra help; the road to success is complex,” he said.

When asked what Labor would have done and what it intends to do should it win the next state election, Mr Herbert said given the current turmoil in the sector, it would be hard to predict what would happen in two years’ time.

“We wouldn’t have punished TAFE because the government was unwilling to rein in extra expenses in the budget overrun,” he said.

“It’s not too late to restore the funding.”