BY CHRISTOPHER PERKINS
WOLLONGONG — Staff in the Illawarra's 13 TAFE libraries, incensed at threatened job cuts and casualisation, have launched an industrial and community campaign to save the public education service they proudly deliver.
The workers, members of the New South Wales Public Service Association (PSA), have been battling management since September, seeking to overturn budget cuts and management's stubborn refusal to fill a series of library job vacancies.
Using the common public sector technique of "natural attrition", alongside the contract casualisation of portions of formerly permanent full-time positions, TAFE Illawarra Institute management restructured the entire library service on July 1.
Apart from job losses and the introduction of part-time and seasonal contracts, many libraries will have to reduce opening hours, especially in the evenings. Workloads for remaining staff will also increase.
Nevertheless, the library unionists' morale is rock-solid: campaign efforts to date have forced management to not only abandon budget cuts but to concede a budget in excess of the unionists' original demands.
But, while making concessions on the budget, management remains determined to shed jobs.
From July 16, the first day of the new TAFE study session, PSA members placed an indefinite institute-wide ban on all library evening shifts.
Bans have also been placed on management's North American-style "Information Commons" technology barn, which has been located in the Wollongong TAFE library. This facility is management's pet project for the brave new world of self-directed online learning, a future where hardly any teaching staff will be required.
Staff have also foreshadowed a 24-hour strike, likely to occur when Labor education minister John Aquilina visits the institute on August 2. The unionists, who have made contact with concerned TAFE students, plan to organise a public demonstration to coincide with his visit. Further strike action will almost certainly follow.
Management has since sought discussions with the union, saying it wants to resolve the dispute, but staff are digging in for a difficult and possibly lengthy struggle.