Unions lead RMIT protest against TAFE funding cuts

More than 100 students, teachers and union activists heard speakers slam private-sector training at a August 2 protest against TAFE cuts at RMIT’s city campus.

Steve Roach from the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union’s Health and Safety Unit said he was concerned that the decline of TAFE — and the subsequent privatisation of building industry training — would lead to unsafe working conditions.

He said: “We find dodgy tickets of competency floating around our industry ... where all [the students] did was give somebody $140 and they come back in with a card the next day.”

Melissa Slee, the RMIT university branch president of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), told the crowd that the smaller programs would disappear because private providers “cherry pick the most profitable programs ... that are cheaper to run.”

Layal Saker, an RMIT TAFE product design teacher, agreed. “We are a unique TAFE course,” she said. “We're Victoria's only product design course ... if we disappeared, our students would have very limited options.”

The rally, jointly organised by the NTEU Victorian Division and the Australian Education Union, was part of a Victoria-wide campaign to stop about $300 million in budget cuts across 18 TAFE institutes.

The NTEU says RMIT TAFE could lose $20 million of its public funding. RMIT started as a workingman's college.

Colin Long, NTEU Victorian division secretary, told the crowd that cuts not only hurt the quality of education in Victoria but also were a “direct attack on affordable education”.