Present tense: Slow recovery

The international student sector has had a dreadful few years, with the falling enrolments of 2019 crashing completely over the two years of the pandemic and its border closures. The worst of the crisis is now over, but recovery, while steady, is slow.

There are some green shoots, however, with student visa numbers up on 2021, admittedly a very low benchmark. The latest English Australia Market Report (with figures from May) reports that ELICOS-only commencements are up nearly 20 percent on the same time last year, with big increases in the number of students from Thailand and Brazil.

On the downside, overall enrolments are down some 14 per cent on May 2021, headed by drops on student numbers from China and Colombia. The numbers from China are particularly concerning, given China's considerable importance in supplying international students to Australian colleges.

Another concern is the number of students who are enrolled, but who remain overseas. The Age newspaper (Melbourne) reported in July that of the nearly 415,000 student visa holders, more than a quarter – nearly 110,000 – are still overseas. Once again, Chinese students make up the largest group of this cohort, with about 55,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australia but continuing to study remotely.

Despite these concerns, it’s apparent that the industry is slowly emerging from the depths of the pandemic, but it’s equally clear the recovery will be a slow one.

Agreements round-up

One key task of your union is to seek better wages and conditions for all employees. Most workers in the private college sector are covered by Modern Award minimum wages, and these employees have already benefited from a bigger than usual increase, with the minimum wage increasing by 4.6% in July.

At workplaces with good union membership, your union is also better placed to push for improvements through the enterprise bargaining system, and here, too, the IEU can boast of a couple of wins in recent months.

Teachers at UTS College (formerly Insearch) won pay rises of 2.5% per annum, while employees at WSU The College are about to vote on a new agreement that will provide for increases of 4% in 2022, 3% in 2023 and 3.25% in 2024, along with other improvements.

The Fair Work Act includes provisions for so-called ‘good faith bargaining’, under which employees at a workplace (or group of employees, such as teachers) can force their employer to bargaining table, where it can be demonstrated a majority of employees want that to happen. Given that employees on enterprise agreements typically earn higher wages and enjoy better conditions than those on the award, such an approach is well worth it. To find out how that could work at your workplace, contact your union or join here:

News from Canberra

The Albanese Labor Government is now almost three months into its first term, and has made a steady start. While hopes for change are high, government can generally be a slow-moving beast. Even so there have been some worthwhile developments from the new government during winter.

One welcome change has been the incorporation of paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave into the National Employment Standards (see page 5). This means that all employees are now entitled to access paid leave of up to 10 days to deal with issues stemming from domestic violence. While the IEU hopes none of our members will need this leave, the sad truth is that statistics on family and domestic violence tell us that many will, and this reform will at least ease the financial and time pressures that might apply to people in this situation.

The new government also plans reform in several other areas of industrial relations, such as greater protection for so-called ‘gig’ workers (for example, Uber drivers and delivery workers), the abolition of the punitive Australian Building and Construction Commission, and greater protections for casual and fixed-term contractors. Legislation on these matters is expected later in the year.

Kendall Warren