Smart and Skilled Reforms

The date 1 January 2015 was an important day for all of us. I will use my first private members’ statement this year to talk about Smart and Skilled in New South Wales. As the implementation of the Smart and Skilled reforms lurches on, stories continue to emerge of people of great experience and quality being forced out in a ruthless purge of institutional knowledge and experience. In its desperation to fund the North-West Rail Link—and by default make educational attainment harder for the people of this State—the Government has removed basic human decency from the staff management practices of TAFE NSW.

I recently received a piece of correspondence from a former TAFE NSW outreach worker. His story is another example of the arrogant, black hearted and utterly unprofessional culture that Smart and Skilled has fostered in our TAFE system. Our correspondent described his role as an “entry point”, a conduit between our community’s disadvantaged young people and the TAFE system. He would speak to school leavers and, importantly, at-risk students and young people about their options. He would encourage them to seek further education and he tried to foster the belief and confidence they needed to do it. His complaint to me, like almost all those I have heard from former TAFE employees, was not grounded in retribution and was not an attempt to get his job back. It was simply borne out of a deep concern for due diligence, transparency and genuine process for TAFE staff being sacked.

His troubles began in August of last year when, in response to the Smart and Skilled reforms, a change management process was commenced in his section. The five existing outreach positions that offered so much to at-risk young people were spilled, with only three to be re-offered. The application process was in equal measure shambolic, dishonest and mean spirited. That is putting to one side that offering only three outreach positions for the entire Hunter region is a failure before the journey begins just by definition of the geography and land mass size. Only one month before all this our correspondent had undergone a performance management meeting in which his manager had given a completely positive appraisal of his efforts and told him there were no issues of concern. Imagine the shock when that same manager then wrote our correspondent a referee report—essentially to apply for his own job—that was dripping with negative feedback. Are we to believe that his performance had deteriorated so much in the space of a month?

When questioned, the manager apologised for the report whilst at the same seeking to justify it. He said that he needed to write the reports “with an eye to the future as well as the past” and that the performance management meeting was only a “casual chat”. Worse yet, the manager who wrote the referee report then sat in on the selection interviews. So we have the one person both writing the reports and then using them to assess the candidates. Not only that, the same person who gave positive feedback one month, a negative referee report the next month and referred to the formal performance review process of TAFE as a “casual chat” was now empowered to make decisions that would affect the future of employees and their families.

Unsurprisingly, our correspondent was not selected for one of the three new positions. This may sound like sour grapes, but it is not. This is a question of an appalling process inflicted on a collective of unsuspecting TAFE staff who have been deemed “must go” by a decimated TAFE system. One of the options offered was a job matching process. I describe it now. First, he could not get any guidance on what was actually involved in the job matching process. When he finally did, he learned that of the positions listed as possible options none had any future beyond a few months. Picking a role from the list at random, he was told, “That position won’t exist after term one.” So he chose another told, and was told, “That role probably won’t be available either.” And on it went. He signed the voluntary redundancy instead.

A wholehearted servant of TAFE New South Wales, who had spent nearly a decade finding education paths for young people who would otherwise have been cut from education completely, was now given a choice between redundancy now or redundancy later. Apparently this is the way of Smart and Skilled. No amount of rationalising bureaucratic drivel will absolve the Government and its members of this absolute shame. Not only has the Government deserted the young and old seeking a TAFE education; it has decimated the fibre and moral of existing staff by imposing on them an appalling mockery of fairness and equity.