On March 26, the NSW Legislative Council passed the motion by Greens NSW MP John Kaye that called on the government to drop its demands that TAFE teacher conditions be slashed to pay for salary increases.
The motion also called on the government to recognise the benefits of TAFE to the state and pay the full salary increase.
Kaye moved the motion on the basis that TAFE should be recognised for its unique role as the public provider of job education and training — a role that contributes to the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of NSW.
Out of all job education students in NSW, TAFE trains 90.7% of students with a disability, 80.8% of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds, and 72.4% of Aboriginal students.
The motion noted that the Rees government and the NSW Teachers Federation concluded a salary negotiation resulting in a 12.48% cumulative increase for full-time and temporary TAFE teachers over the next three years.
This agreement was made on the basis that the government was demanding extra "employee-related cost savings" for pay rises over 2.5% a year.
The trade-offs included longer teaching hours, the removal of extra time credits for teaching outside normal hours, and the loss of an hour a week of professional development (which had already been "paid" for by TAFE teachers when they gave up a 3% salary increase in a previous agreement).
Part-time casual teachers are restricted to a 2.5% a year salary rise.
These cost-saving conditions were described by Kaye as unfair and unjust. The government's policy undermines the future of TAFE, increases stress on TAFE teachers and causes economic loss for some.
A review conducted by Allen Consulting Group in September 2006 estimated for every $1 invested in TAFE the return over the next 20 years is $6.40 — or a 640% return for society.
Despite the financial and social benefits of TAFE, funding has been cut sharply over the past decade.
The NSW government has reduced its per student TAFE funding by 30.5% between 1997 and 2006 in inflation-adjusted terms. At the same time the federal government has cut its funding to TAFE by more than 20%.
The NSW government has also moved to casualise the TAFE workforce to cut more costs. About 70% of employees in TAFE are casual employees.
"The impact on teachers," Kaye said, "in terms of the additional commitments required to maintain outcomes, the sacrifice required of teachers, has been enormous.
"We are demanding of our teachers that they sacrifice more than almost any other sector of society for social outcomes. That demand has reached its end."
He added: "We can no longer continue to operate a TAFE system on the basis of the goodwill and commitment of TAFE teachers. It is time we put money into TAFE to ensure that we do not burn out our teachers."
The Rees government's illogical position on TAFE is shown by the fact that the TAFE teacher workforce is ageing rapidly. The government's policies make TAFE far less attractive as an employer of qualified educators.
At one TAFE institute surveyed in the NSW Auditor-General's report of February 2008, 22% of permanent full-time teachers said they intended to retire in the next three to five years.
In discussion time, Kaye was accused of undermining the authority of Industrial Relations Commission — the so-called "independent umpire".
Kaye called this accusation misleading, stating, "all we are doing is using the valid position as a chamber of the New South Wales parliament to express our opinion to the government that it ought to change its negotiating position before the Industrial Relations Commission and cease demanding further reductions in benefits to TAFE teachers".
Kaye said, "the Rees government is engaged in a war on TAFE teachers". The passing of the motion "was a humiliating defeat for the government", he said.