Present tense: More federal changes

The Federal Government has recently introduced into Parliament some further proposed changes to the Fair Work Act, with the Albanese government’s ‘Closing the Loopholes’ bill. Some of these changes may have significant effects on the post-secondary sector.

Getting the most media coverage are proposed laws around wages theft, the situation when employers deliberately withhold pay to which employees are rightfully entitled. Anyone who has ever worked in the English Language intensive courses for overseas students (ELICOS) industry in Australia will know that there are many colleges that basically ignore the award and pay people at low step levels, regardless of what their qualifications and experience might entitle them to. Penalties for breaches are expected to be severe, with fines in the millions of dollars and even jail terms.

The government is also proposing better regulation around insecure work, with more rights for casual workers to convert to permanent, as well as clearer definitions about what casual work actually is. Related to this, it is intended there will be greater regulation around so-called “gig” workers (which in practice may assist students rather than teachers) and labour-hire companies.

The bill faces an uncertain path through the Senate. While the Greens are likely to support the legislation, the government will still need two of the four independent senators for it to become law.

Cleaning up the sector

The post-secondary education sector has long harboured some disreputable providers, colleges which are just fronts for funnelling international students into unregulated work. The Albanese government has recently announced a crackdown on so-called ‘ghost colleges,’ which have a lot of enrolments, but whose students rarely attend.

In August, Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor announced greater compliance measures for VET colleges, and beefing up the powers of the industry regulator ASQA.

In October, the government also announced greater regulation of the shadowy world of education agents, including the prohibition of onshore poaching of existing students, a common practice with some colleges.

Long-time observers of the industry will be aware that governments of either stripe have long threatened crackdowns on the sector, and while overall standards have improved over the years, it remains to be seen what sort of effect these most recent changes will end up having.

Bargaining update

Your union continues to bargain on behalf of members, and we have recently finalised new agreements at two colleges, UNSW College and Navitas English.

At UNSW College, teachers will soon receive a $1000 ‘uplift’ to all rates followed by an immediate 4% increase, both of which will be backdated to January 2023. From January 2024, pays will increase further by 3.5%, with another 3.5% increase in 2025.

Navitas English have also opted for a dollar amount increase, with all rates increasing by an average of 3.75% from July 2023 (with higher increases at the lower steps than at the top), followed by 3.5% in 2024, and 2.75% in both 2025 and 2026. Teachers will also get a sign-on bonus of over $1000. There are also improvements in a range of other areas such as payment for additional shifts, and new ‘MyStudy’ arrangements.

The news is not so good at Taylors College, where negotiations have stalled over management’s insistence on making significant (and retrograde) claims around term times, hours of work and paid parental leave, which teachers are not prepared to accept. The IEU has suggested rolling over the existing agreement with minimal changes and nominal pay rises, but so far neither side is prepared to budge.

Bargaining is also getting started at Navitas Skilled Futures, with organisers from the union visiting centres in October to seek feedback for our Log of Claims.

The Fair Work Act includes provisions pertaining to ‘good faith bargaining,’ under which an employer can be compelled to bargain when it can be demonstrated that the majority of employees (or group of employees, such as teachers) wish to do so. To find out how that might work at your college, contact your union, the IEU.

Kendall Warren