Job security: an essential item?

The COVID pandemic continues to wreak havoc on employment

Job security in public education and VET is vital in the post-COVID NT economy, writes Adam Lampe

With the unemployment rate growing and the projection of 20,000 job losses in the Northern Territory due to the Coronavirus, people should be members of a union now more than ever.

The majority of the hardest hit by the economic shutdown are those in the hospitality and tourism industries, where casualisation is high and union membership is low.

As the crisis mounted, the union movement lobbied government to introduce improved safety nets around the introduction of unpaid pandemic leave, annual leave at half pay, wage subsidies and stricter WHS practices. Industries with strong union representation were able to activate stronger protections embedded in enterprise agreements, such as the ability for teachers in the Northern Territory to apply for additional personal leave at half pay.

Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Australians have been thrown out of work, and the economy continues to bleed jobs as our society tries to bounce back from the virus.

Hardest hit in the education sector are universities. Predictions indicate that 15,000-20,000 jobs will be lost in higher education. This is largely a result of the loss of revenue from international students.

Universities have negotiated with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) to agree to variations to enterprise agreements around the country to allow for changes to wages and work schedules, if necessary, to save jobs.

In the national context, AEU members in the TAFE/VET sectors will not be affected by these moves to address academic jobs. However, Charles Darwin University is one of the few dual sector universities, where VET and higher education are delivered by the same institution. Workers in both sectors fall under the same enterprise agreement.

However, the revenue streams between the sectors are quite different. VET is not as dependent on international students, for example, and a there is a steady commitment of government funding for vocational training.

Without strong union representation, the situation for workers in tertiary education would be a lot worse. The AEU NT continues to protect the wages and conditions of our members in the VET sector and remains vigilant toward any moves to use the pandemic as an excuse to cut jobs and courses.

On a national level, the union movement is focused on improving job security by reducing forced casualisation, outsourcing and the overuse of fixed term contracts.

Permanent employment remains a priority issue for the AEU NT. We continue to press the NT Government and Department of Education to honour its commitment to reduce the number of fixed term contracts in NT schools. Also, the move to replace executive principal contracts with ongoing principal positions is good news for those principals who have little security of employment. Permanent NT employees are currently required to surrender their ongoing job to take up executive principal contracts. The change to ongoing employment should encourage more teachers who have permanent jobs to apply for those positions.

None of this focus on permanent employment and security would have occurred without union influence. Essential to rebuilding the nation’s economy in a post-pandemic world is investment in public education and VET. Job security for education workers is a necessary part of that strategy.

This article was first published in the Term 2, 2020 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.