Present tense: The year in review

What a year 2020 has been! From bushfires to the global movement Black Lives Matter to the end of Trump. Oh, and the small matter of a once-in-a-century pandemic. It’s been a year like no other, and while world events will provide teachers with no end of subjects to base resources on, I’m sure we’ll all be glad when we can put 2020 behind us. With a new US President, vaccines seemingly on the way and the end of the drought, 2021 is starting to look a little more promising.

Of course, it’s the pandemic that has made the biggest impact, both in the world at large, and in the post-secondary education sector. As an industry that relies heavily on international students, the closure of Australia’s borders since March has created an existential threat to the sector, and many venerable institutions have been casualties.

However, there may finally be some good news on the horizon. In November, both Pfizer and Moderna announced highly encouraging results for the vaccines they have developed, with media reports suggesting efficacies of over 90%. Given that vaccines typically take several years to develop, to arrive at this stage in less than a year is nothing short of extraordinary and gives the world hope that the ordeals of 2020 may soon be over.

As long as the borders remain closed, however, the industry won’t be getting back on to its feet, but here too there are some encouraging noises being made. It is likely that pilot programs for international students will be introduced in the New Year, and many providers are working on the basis that students will be able to come back onshore by the middle of next year. Nothing is certain yet, and another Melbourne-style outbreak would quickly put us back to square one, but as the year comes to a close, there are some signs of hope.

Industrial relations changes

When the pandemic was at its peak back in autumn, many temporary changes were made to industrial relations laws, mostly with the consent of the ACTU. The Federal Government then arranged a working group of unions, employers and other stakeholders to try and come up with longer term changes, so that Australian workplaces might be well placed to capitalise on the recovery from the COVID recession. However, as this column has previous reported, these talks broke up on the rocky shoals of fundamental differences between the various interest groups.

In mid-November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the government would bring an omnibus Industrial Relations Bill before Parliament before the end of the year. As yet, we don’t know exactly what these changes might be, though the tight timeframe suggests that the government is trying to avoid extensive scrutiny of them.

In particular, Morrison has made suggestions that the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) might be watered down. The BOOT is a crucial part of the protections under the Fair Work Act, and ensures that workers cannot be worse off under an enterprise agreement or other contractual arrangement than they would be under the relevant award (and given that the award guarantees only very basic conditions, this is a pretty low bar).

The ACTU, with the full support of the IEU, is therefore encouraging workers to sign this petition, calling on the government not to reduce protections below what they currently are:

The ACTU and the IEU also encourage you to send a short email to the government explaining why:

This will be final edition of Present Tense for 2020, but we’ll be back keeping you informed in 2021. From all of us at the IEU, we wish you and your loved ones all the best for the festive season.

Kendall Warren