It’s the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident that brought international attention to seven weeks of primarily student-led protests, occupations and demonstrations against government corruption, and calling for freedom of the press, publication of party officials’ salaries, easing of Communist political restrictions, increased funding for education and academics, the introduction of democracy, and economic reform. Estimates of deaths, nationwide, range from an official count of 241 (including soldiers) to over 10,000.
This is not China, and I’m certainly making no comparisons between hardline conservative Premier Li Peng, leader Deng Xiaoping, or even the more conciliatory Zhao Ziyang – corruption clearly exists in many areas across the board, but at very low levels; though our mass media reports with a decided right-wing lean, it’s not state-run; our politicians’ incomes are publicly available; and restrictions on public protest and other civil liberties exist but are less restrictive than in the US or the UK.
We do, however, have a government that seems more interested in its fiscal profilethat the best interests of the state and the best interests of the population it was elected to represent. We know how this government tried to serve the public when it came to health care – had ANF members, staff, Executive and our legal team not put up such a determined, concerted, consistent and intelligent fight nurses and midwives would now be working fragmented shifts of varying and unknown lengths, not necessarily on our own wards or even in our own hospitals; we would be taking over care of patients as their nurses and midwives were sent home mid-shift, increasing an already overburdened work load, and we would be responsible for not only ourselves and our students, but also the actions of minimally trained staff.
The general public acute EBA is in the process of balloting (vote yes, vote now, vote as often as you have jobs with different employers, and mail it in!), but almost ten weeks on the more complex Mental Health negotiations continue.
Nurses have among the highest rates of work-acquired chronic neck and back injury, so the Premier’s decision to pass legislation allowing government to supplement its coffers with WorkCover funds should have specific resonance for clinicians – any one of us could have a career-ending injury the next time we set foot on a ward, department, clinic, or patients’ home. This money, paid into the fund by employers (and calculated based on the type of industry, employee count, risk estimate, and actual claims, which encouraged safer workplace practices), is not a tax – it is designed to support injured workers as they return to work, or allow them to survive if a return to work is not possible. If, as Mr Baillieu purports, there is money surplus to requirements (yay safe work practices and fewer injuries), the answer is surely one or a combination of: reducing WorkCover premiums, returning a portion of funds to contributing employers, increasing payments to recipients, increasing funding to WorkCover programs and workplace inspections. Not on the list? Allowing government to take over $120 million dollars each and every year from the fund.
The legislation passed in the Lower House and – as far as I know – is pending in the Upper House. In the interim the Baillieu government has turned its sights on education – the cuts to TAFE are substantial and potentially mortal, with hundreds of jobs already sacrificed and more to come. Entire courses are being removed, but funding to the private vocational education providers will continue. I suspect the underlying intent includes selling campuses, as part of the privatisation of an entire education sector.
TAFE programs are primarily accessed by those looking for apprenticeships, re-entering the market, or seeking retraining or up-skilling – for the most part this means people who are unable or uninterested in accessing the more academic tertiary sector, the long-term unemployed, the recently retrenched, older workers, and women re-entering the workforce. For those who have funds, the private sector is an option; for those who have no access to money upfront, the options narrow considerably. At a time of economic uncertainty we have greater need than ever for a skilled, job-ready workforce, and that means funding TAFEs.
After making an election promise that Victoria’s teachers would be the best paid in the nation, the Baillieu government is offering our educators the same 2.5% he extended to us, while requiring the imposition of additional conditions. These include the insertion of another hours’ classroom teaching into already-tight workloads, performance-based salaries that will encourage knowledge hoarding and reduce collegiate cooperation, and annual job losses of a set percentage of ‘underperforming’ teachers, though how this will be assessed is unclear.
On Thursday the Australian Education Union will be marching to Parliament House to protest this reneging of an election commitment – ANF members, other union members, and the general public are encouraged to attend. The AEU will be marching from HiSense arena to reach Parliament House at 13:30 – I’ll be there, red-clad and with camera at the ready. I hope to see a number of faces new and familiar – it will be 905 days and counting then…