TAFE teachers shout “We will win”… but Federation settles for a loss

The settlement of the TAFE dispute is a huge disappointment after the inspirational and determined solidarity expressed at Sydney Town Hall and across the state by TAFE teachers on 11 February.

I attended the meeting to vote on the settlement at the Teachers’ Federation building where the broadcast message to the state showed President Bob Lipscombe telling us that the settlement was based on a ‘departure’ from a decision of the Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission that was ‘unprecedented’. Geoff Turnbull had made the fiery speech at the Town Hall rally that ended with spontaneous foot stomping and chanting “we will win”, that lasted for minutes. Geoff Turnbull spoke at this meeting for the settlement saying that “Finally a satisfactory result had been achieved” and praised Federation for its support for TAFE teachers.

In fact in response to questions from the floor, Bob Lipscombe admitted that there had been no overturning of any Full Bench decision, and that the settlement was an agreement with the NSW Government on an interpretation of the rejected WorkChoices style award.

The agreement allows the award to stand, and the “interpretation” agreed to concedes that it will increase face to face teaching hours and attendance at work. The increase of 5 hours additional attendance per week may be completed “off-site”, “subject to TAFE business needs that may require additional onsite attendance from time to time”. The cap on teaching hours per week has been raised to 30 hours, though members are advised that “the unreasonable hours test remains for all teaching hours above 20 in a week.”

By the time members had raised several specific problems in working to the “agreed” interpretation of the award, Bob Lipscombe had proposed there be enough phone calls to the union about the problems, that the lines would have to be engaged and no-one would be able to get through. This is a recipe for case after case occupying union staff, rather than for members making common cause in solidarity. The other consolation offered by both Bob Lipscombe and Geoff Turnbull was that there will be a new award due in another year and we can try to win back some of what we lost.

The argument for the settlement was essentially that TAFETA membership lacked the commitment to sustain the indefinite industrial action that the Federation Executive judged would be necessary to overturn a Full Bench decision, change the government’s mind, and improve the result. The government would be able to sit us out, in the judgment of the leadership.

It would indeed be irresponsible for the union leadership to recommend a course of action to members, expecting it to lead to defeat.

But the militancy of the Town Hall meeting indicated that a significant section of TAFE teachers are willing and eager to stand up for their rights at work, and that the settlement is a squandering of that will by the leadership.

I asked Bob Lipscombe from the floor of the meeting how he would make sure that TAFE teachers in colleges who are disappointed and demoralised by this result could be convinced and supported to rebuild the necessary commitment in their workplaces to win back in the next award the losses defined in the new award we had been fighting.

A few people spoke to me after the meeting, saying the point I raised was important, and shared my frustration that Bob Lipscombe had not answered the question.

The vote at the meeting I attended was approximately 2/3 for the settlement, 1/3 against (I do not yet have the numbers from around the state). Considering that there was no organisation or co-ordination amongst the opponents of the settlement, no coherent alternative plan for beating the government, and that Geoff Turnbull was present and adding his authority to the case for accepting the settlement – the size of the no vote indicates serious dissatisfaction.

It seems that we cannot count on Federation Executive moving straight onto the offensive against this award, and giving priority to preparing members to take the action needed to win back in the next award what has been lost in this one.

Those TAFETA members who continue to have confidence in the will of the 11 February Town Hall meeting, “We will win” – need to get networking and caucusing across the state now.


  1. Phil Bradley

    Yes, I agree it was a disappointment, but it appears the Labor Government had few if any MPs prepared to stick their necks out in support of Federation’s position. The unfairness in valuing 5 extra hours of directed duties/wk at $2.90/hr should have been self evident, but turning TAFE into a profit making business with little or no Government funding is even more clearly now the NSW ALP’s agenda as dictated by Treasury. Our MP lobbying wasn’t sufficiently intense, including of Coalition MPs from whom we need to get a written commitment to reverse the TAFE inequity!
    At Granville, the meeting opposed the settlement by 66-46 and all bar two (abstentions) supported my business arising motion that: The Federation is asked to commit to strongly support all members who refuse to attend on-site for the additional 5 hours/week when it is considered to be more often than “from time to time” when necessary for “TAFE business needs”. This support is to extend to members pressured to attend for unreasonable specified duties.”
    It is now up to the members to get coordinated to ensure that the settlement is applied in the most benign way possible.

  2. Neville Griffin

    Hello are there any bloggers out there. I am so pissed of with the federation I want to resign and join another union. The federation went to the IRC with a case for Tafe teachers that was full of propoganda and was rightly a laughing stock. They have been back peddling ever since but thats OK its only TAFE teachers a mere 6.88 percent of the membership. Unions in Australia except in the mining sector are almost redundant. The granting of a safe labour seat to Bob Lipscombe cannot be far of. Unions are now in bed with political parties which polarises their original purpose. The union had given assurances to the Keneally government the proposal would be passed regardless of members preferences in return for the dismissal of the case against the federation. The federation is managed through self interest and political interference.

  3. Neville Griffin

    Hi Phil
    I have results from five meetings and all overwhlmingly voted against the proposal. Why did the federation waste our time with meetings that achieved nothing because the decision was already made, a deal that saved the federation $ 600,000. The union is only as strong as its members that the executive can overrule as it sees fit.

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