The 6th Women and Labour Conference (held at Deakin University in Geelong, 28 – 30 November) featured a workshop, “Resist Casualisation and Union Busting in TAFE: Frontline Fighters Speak Out!,” which was jointly sponsored by Radical Women and the NMIT Unionists Campaign Committee. Strong women unionists from the Australian Education Union (AEU) and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at Northern TAFE, Western TAFE and RMIT TAFE spoke about our campaigns against discriminatory treatment of unionists and breaks in contracts to an audience, which included interstate TAFE workers and feminists from outside the sector. The final plenary of the conference endorsed two resolutions in support of women works in TAFE. The first endorsed the struggle of workers at Northern TAFE to resist the harassment and intimidation of union activists. The conference resolved:
“This 6th Women and Labour Conference deplores the erosion of working conditions and loss of job security in TAFE. The impact of these changes falls most harshly upon women.
In particular we condemn the discriminatory treatment experienced by union activists at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE. We applaud the lodging of discrimination complaints by former AEU sub-branch secretary, Barbara Morgan, and former AEU sub-branch President, Alison Thorne, and congratulate the AEU Vic Branch for the strong backing it has given to both complaints. As both cases are about the right to be an active unionist without fear of discrimination, the outcome of these cases is significant for all working people, especially those employed in TAFE.
This gathering of feminists, including trade union activists:
 Calls on the AEU to:
1.1. continue funding both cases until a resolution satisfactory to the members directly concerned is reached;
1.2. further step up efforts to organise sessional and fixed-term contract teachers in all sectors by giving top priority to the concerns of these workers.
 Calls on management at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE to:
2.1. stop discriminating against workers and reinstate those former staff members who wish to be reinstated;
2.2. recognise the right for both students and workers to be members of the relevant union without fear of retribution or discrimination;
2.3. ensure that all staff and students are given the option of joining the relevant union when they commence work or study at the Institute.”
Conference participants were keen to offer their solidarity and to sign the AEU endorsed petition protesting the treatment of both the AEU and the student union at NMIT.
The second resolution characterised some the broader trends in TAFE, which helped create the conditions for the victimisation of active unionists at Northern TAFE:
“The 6th Women and Labour Conference deplores the inherent discrimination against women workers which arises from the TAFE system’s increasing use of casualisation in employment. Particularly discriminatory and abusive practices include:
- Breaks between contract employment which results in the loss of pay over the non-teaching period, lack of access to maternity/paternity and adoption leave provisions;
- Cost-saving mechanisms which reduce teachers’ political and industrial activism through fear of non-contract renewal;
- Reduced quality provision for students because of the lack of consistency, coordination and integration of program delivery.
Further, the proposed amalgamation of TAFE Institutes provides a threat to women as workers and students because of the government’s requirements for Vocational Education and Training to be a commercial profit-making enterprise rather than a social/community responsibility. For example, as fees increase, women’s participation decreases.”