A TAFE restructure that has resulted in the loss of 27 jobs from campuses across the region has been slammed by union representatives, with a warning it’s just the beginning.
NSW Teachers’ Federation TAFE organiser Kathy Nicholson, who lives in Inverell, said the full-time positions were in the areas of educational and administration support.
The restructure also proposed some new positions, she said, but the union was concerned these were limited to three-year contracts.
The Department of Education and Communities denies positions have been lost, although “adjustments in course delivery and staffing arenecessary to better reflect local demands”.
“As part of this process, TAFE New England has released a proposal to staff for consultation and feedback,” a department spokesman said.
“No positions have been cut, as final adjustments will not be finalised until the consultation process is completed. Any adjustments will meet Fair Work Australia guidelines.
“Any change resulting from the consultation process will enable TAFE New England’s on-going, sustainable success as a high quality competitive local trainer within TAFE NSW.”
For Ms Nicholson though the fight is just beginning, as the union braces for the introduction of a new vocational education regime in July next year called Smart and Skilled, which they fear will result in the “dismantling” of the TAFE system.
Smart and Skilled will change the way vocational education and training is funded in NSW, with TAFEs competing with private training providers for students in an open training market.
TAFEs have already been forced to tighten their belts after $1.7 billion in state government cuts to school and TAFE spending.
The fear now is next year’s reforms will place more pressure on the sector.
“Smart and Skilled is neither, that’s the thing; it will change the way TAFE is funded and make it absolutely untenable really for TAFE to survive, particularly in the regions,” Ms Nicholson said.
She argues teaching jobs will be lost, assets sold off and the cost of courses will skyrocket.
When similar changes to vocational education were made in Victoria, Ms Nicholson said 2500 teaching jobs were lost and campuses sold.
The department says it has taken into account lessons learnt from the Victorian experience of VET reform and the NSW model was based on wide-ranging consultation with key stakeholders.
“TAFE New England’s asset management strategy is based on meeting current and projected demand for vocational education and training in the region,” the department spokesman said.
“This strategy includes a review of under-utilised or duplicated assets, to ensure resources are directed at meeting current and future needs.
“Course costs are unrelated to any changes outlined in the consultation proposal.
“These will be determined by government, based on recommendations from the report into fees and pricing by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.”
Ms Nicholson said it would also open up VET to “shonky” providers who would cut corners in order to secure training contracts.
A department spokesman said the government would clearly set out its expectations for training by quality providers and “Smart and Skilled would promote excellence and drive quality in the training system for students and employers”.
The union is embarking on a “Stop TAFE Cuts” campaign against the changes in order to raise the public’s awareness of the reforms.
“I don’t think people are aware of how drastic this will be,” Ms Nicholson said.
“This is like nothing we’ve ever seen, this is an absolute attack on the public institution of TAFE that I believe is owned by taxpayers and if they were asked, ‘do you want to dismantle TAFE?, do you realise the impact and flow-on effects to our towns and regions?’, they’d be horrified.”