TAFE campuses around the Hunter were the scene of industrial action on Thursday as non-teaching staff went on strike for three hours against a state government proposal they say “slashes” wages and conditions.
The statewide strike comes just a week after Skills Minister John Barilaro released a report into vocational training by Boston Consulting that labelled the TAFE system as "inefficient" and "uncompetitive" when compared with private providers.
The striking non-teaching TAFE staff are members of the Public Service Association and their organiser, former TAFE staffer Margaret Fullick, said they were sick of having their conditions attacked by a government that seemed determined to drive TAFE into the ground.
“The non-teaching staff include people like librarians, store persons, clerks and laboratory assistants,” Ms Fullick said.
“TAFE wants to cut their conditions, to force them on to part-year employment, meaning they would only be paid on the weeks when there were students at TAFE.
“Management put a proposed agreement to staff in September last year, it was overwhelmingly rejected at a ballot. Today’s strike, and the other actions that the non-teaching staff have voted to consider is part of a legally protected period of industrial action in defence of their pay and conditions.”
The Newcastle Herald was unable to obtain comment after the strike from Mr Barilaro, but after the Boston report was released he said vocational training was undergoing significant change and TAFE needed to “eliminate duplication costs and reduce inefficiencies”.
“The TAFE of today was set up in 1993 when workplace and student expectations were very different," Mr Barilaro said. "Back then, TAFE NSW was heavily focused on face-to-face, on-campus teaching. Distance was an overriding factor affecting how and where students studied and Institutes tailored their courses to the economy of their local community.”
Mr Barilo said 40 per cent to 60 per cent of the TAFE budget was spent on “administration and back-room costs” rather than “front-line teaching”. But Ms Fullick said non-teaching employees did crucial work that helped keep the system together despite the difficulties caused by repeated government funding cuts.
In other industrial news on Thursday, about 20 Hunter truck drivers took part in a protest in Sydney against the federal government’s decision to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Thursday was also the International Day of Mourning for workers killed on the job, and International Workers Memorial Day, and Hunter unionists held a small ceremony on the Newcastle foreshore to mark the date.