In New South Wales (NSW), more than 50% of the total teaching hours in the TAFE sector are currently taught by workers employed on part-time/casual conditions. This group of workers is woefully under-organised. Estimates of the actual number of teachers employed this way vary, but all put the number at over 11,000. Current union membership among part-time and casual teachers for the state is a little over 1,000.
In 1991 a group of part-time and casual teachers formed a special interest group within the union. The group was instrumental in preparing an award application for part-time/casual teachers. This was withdrawn in 1994 in favour of an Enterprise Agreement.
As a result of this organising, part-time and casual teachers in NSW are now paid $41.99 per hour for teaching duties – considerably more than in Victoria where most sessional teachers employed to teach daytime classes are paid less than $25 per hour. Through the union, part-time/casual teachers in NSW have won some sick leave entitlements and payment at $33.15 per hour for duties other than teaching. In some Institutes, workers have access to these conditions as a matter of course. But in others, workers experience tremendous difficulties, even getting information about their entitlements.
Even with the better conditions in NSW, part-time and casual teachers are still a cheap and flexible option for employers. If a part-time/casual worker teaches the same number of weekly hours as a full-time teacher, their annual pay is just over $30,000, and they are not eligible for any annual leave.
In 1997 the part-time and casual Special Interest Group held a number of meetings with the General Secretary of the union and won approval and funding for a trial recruitment campaign in six selected colleges – three metropolitan and three regional. The two-month trial resulted in 70 new part-time and casual union members.
NSW TAFE is facing major budget cuts in 1998 – which means job losses for part-time and casual teachers. Union activists in NSW face a major challenge. But they are winning over more full-time/permanent workers to an understanding that the future of everyone’s working conditions is at stake if permanent workers do not defend part-time and casual teachers.
The activist Special Interest Group model within the structure of the union has resulted in significant gains for casual workers in the NSW TAFE system. It is a model TAFE workers in other states must consider.