The Federal Budget was handed down on 11 May, and this contained mixed news for the private post-secondary education sector.
On one hand, the Federal Government announced a $53 million aid package for the sector, including $26.1 million for non-university providers to attract more Australian students, $9.4 million to assist with offshore and online delivery, $17.7 million on government fee relief, and further FEE-HELP exemptions and deferrals for students.
All of this will no doubt be helpful for the industry (though the ‘off-shore’ inducements don’t suggest that saving Australian jobs is a priority), but the kicker came with the announcement that the government does not expect international borders to fully re-open until mid-2022 – and some 70 percent of Australians are quite comfortable with that approach.
It’s likely that international students will be allowed to return before that (and the NSW government has been especially active in this space), but the working assumption is that this won’t happen in any numbers until the beginning of next year.
With student numbers falling through the floor, the prospects in the short term for most English colleges (and other institutions catering to the international market) are grim. With overall enrolments down by nearly 70 percent, it’s highly likely that many colleges won’t survive that long.
Meanwhile, other competitor countries the US and the UK, and even New Zealand, where Covid vaccine rollouts have been far more widespread, stand ready to grab a large portion of the international student market that might otherwise be coming Down Under.
Meanwhile, the pandemic and border closures continue to cut a swathe through the industry. In April, EC English closed its doors in Australia, after buying out Embassy English just two years previously, and in May, Ability English followed them, closing their colleges in Sydney and Melbourne, and going into receivership.
It seems quite likely that other colleges will soon join them on the scrapheap, raising the question about what happens to worker entitlements when a college goes bust. In the first instance, the Administrators will try to find sufficient money after liquidation (ie selling every single thing the college owned, right down to tables and chairs) to pay out workers’ entitlements, but if that isn’t possible (and it often isn’t), employees can access the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG), the Federal Government scheme to safeguard worker entitlements (https://www.ag.gov.au/industrial-relations/fair-entitlements-guarantee-feg).
The FEG is a safety net scheme which will pay workers the following entitlements, where applicable:
• up to 13 weeks in unpaid wages
• any unpaid annual leave or long service leave
• payment in lieu of notice, and
• redundancy pay.
Your union can assist you to calculate exactly what you might be owed.
Despite the ongoing difficulties in the sector, your union continues to do the work we’ve always done, such as ensuring the rights of members are upheld, and seeking improved conditions through enterprise bargaining.
Currently, your union is bargaining with WSU The College, and these negotiations are nearing a resolution. The College put forward a proposal for settlement in late May, but the suggested terms were not good enough for your union to accept (not least a substandard pay offer).
Nevertheless, your union remains hopeful that we will have an agreement to vote on in the next few months.
Meanwhile, your union has commenced ‘working group’ discussions with Navitas English, ahead of full enterprise bargaining later in the year. These meetings will work through some of the likely changes in the next round of government contracts for AMEP and SEE, and as a show of good faith, Navitas have agreed to flow through a pay rise equivalent to the Wages Price Index, 1.4%, payable from 1 July.
There has never been a more important time to be a member of the IEU, so ensure your details are up to date, and encourage your colleagues to join. People can join over the phone (8202 8900), via email (email@example.com) or online (https://www.ieu.asn.au/join-page). There are many broader benefits to IEU membership (https://www.ieu.asn.au/member-benefits), and union fees are tax deductible.