By Janet Burstall
New South Wales Minister for Education and Training, Andrew Refshauge, announced a restructure of public education under the mendacious title of "Lifelong Learning". It is in the fine tradition of many job-cutting programs in the Australian public sector, pretending to be a restructure that will improve services - increase "frontline staff" and reduce the number of "bureaucrats".
The big change in this structure is that TAFE and Schools head offices will be amalgamated, made much smaller, and new combined regional centres for administration will be set up. According to Premier Carr it'll be Health next. The Department of Housing has also been marked for restructure, on the same regional lines as education. This only makes sense as a long term agenda to share corporate services, then corporatise them. Corporatisation commonly comes before privatisation.
The restructure is at the direction of the Minister, and its immediate justification is to fulfil Labor's election promise to increase spending on professional development for teachers by $140million and to improve aboriginal education, but by saving $100million per year within the department. They are also looking for cuts to fund public sector pay rises. The brew was distilled in secret by the Minister and senior bureaucrats.
The Public Service Association stands to lose over 700 positions. The Teachers' Federation covers 300 positions marked for return to the classroom from professional support roles.
Public servants are told to learn to cope with "change". If public sector workers and teachers could design the changes themselves they might look like this:
- shorter hours with better pay, especially for the lower paid
- more jobs
- an end to empire building and petty management, staff election of managers, principals, etc
more staff development
upgraded facilities, including taking outsourced services such as cleaning back into the public sector
- partnerships with students and their families (instead of industry and developers) and community needs to be well-funded (rather than starved so that the rich can pay low taxes and use government funded private schools).
Then it wouldn't be the public servants, teachers (or the students and their families) who would be having trouble coping with change.
Instead teachers and support staff, students and their parents have been given five weeks of "consultation" on a document that is so short of detail as to be almost meaningless.
Unfortunately there have been few union successes against the government department restructures of the past. The offering of voluntary redundancies at the right moment has starved support from campaigns to save jobs. Workers in units that seem to be less directly affected (in this case mainly in schools and some TAFE colleges) are grateful not be involved in the stress, and get on with busy jobs, hoping for the best.
But for all the restructures that have supposedly got rid of bureaucratic excess, and put resources back into frontline services, the workloads and stress have only increased, even after the stress of the restructure itself has passed.
NSW Public education needs all 1,000 jobs - no cuts!
Now it would be inspirational if the education unions embarked on a serious campaign to stop the Government making public sector workers routinely pay this price of stress and job cuts, disguised for the public as a restructure to improve education. If teachers and public servants stay united to force the government to back down on the cost-cutting measures involved in this restructure, it should also be possible to enlist the support of P&Cs and the public education lobby.
Activist PSA delegates in the PSA, such as Leon Parissi and Jenny Long are working hard to make sure that the PSA does commit to a serious fight to save the 700 jobs. TAFETA officials Linda Simon and Phil Bradley are very supportive of the need for a united campaign.
The core demands needed for the campaign are:
- no job cuts below SES, and
- for the publication of all the calculations and reasoning behind the restructure proposal.
- full funding for election promises and for public sector salary increases
The Carr Government will argue that it doesn't have the money. The unions will need to demand proper funding to maintain member and community support. We will need to demand proper funding from the State Government:
o The State & Federal Governments should fund public education only, private schools should join the state system to get funded.
o The Federal Government should increase company and top rates of tax.
Both the PSA and Teachers Federation members have begun holding workplace and delegate meetings, the essential starting point for a serious campaign.