NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay was in the Hunter on Wednesday to slam cuts to TAFE jobs under a restructure of the education institution.
Ms McKay was joined by Hunter MPs and union members outside TAFE's Tighes Hill campus to condemn the cuts, which are part of a restructure of TAFE NSW's Student Services and Facilities Management and Logistics teams under its new One TAFE operating model.
Labor claimed that 678 jobs would be lost across NSW, 80 of which were from the Hunter, including 43 in Newcastle alone.
TAFE NSW disputes these figures, saying it is expected that the final structures will see a net reduction of fewer than 50 jobs across the organisation, with no confirmation yet as to what will happen in the Hunter.
A TAFE spokesperson also said that from information provided to staff, "role changes" had been confused for "job losses".
"We have been transparent with employees and unions that these teams would go through organisational design as part of the One TAFE modernisation reforms," the spokesperson said.
"As required under TAFE NSW Enterprise Agreements, we are consulting with affected employees to seek their input and feedback on proposed changes over the next several weeks.
"The outcome of the consultation will determine the final structure, and will help inform the location of any roles that will change as part of this process.
"TAFE NSW has support in place to ensure a smooth transition for employees and is focused on minimising disruption to students, employers, and industry."
At a Tertiary Education and Skills Budget Estimates hearing on Monday, TAFE NSW acting chief people and culture officer Julie Tickle said some of the positions that would be affected by the restructure had not been occupied for up to 10 years.
"Some of them have not been occupied for years and years because facilities management and logistics, and student services - both of those branches have been awaiting change for some time," Ms Tickle said.
"As part of modernising One TAFE, we are removing duplication, and in both of those areas there is a number of previous positions that were done which are not done anymore."
But shadow minister for skills and TAFE Jihad Dib said the vacant positions situation was an "incredibly creative accounting method".
He said a presentation from TAFE NSW showed there were 313 job vacancies in Student Services and 82 vacancies in Facilities Management and Logistics.
"There were people in these jobs that when they've left you haven't filled that position," he said.
"Why do you have nearly 400 odd positions that are vacant?"
Mr Dib will join TAFE workers and union members at TAFE's Tighes Hill campus on Thursday to rally against job cuts.
Ms McKay said that the NSW Government should not be cutting TAFE jobs, particularly at a time when youth unemployment in the Hunter was at almost 20 per cent.
"We need to build TAFE, we need to create opportunities for young people here," she said.
TAFE said that no teaching jobs would be cut.
"These are not frontline jobs," a TAFE spokesperson said. "There are no teaching positions, or roles that support students in the classroom or with their studies in these proposed changes.
"TAFE NSW is taking steps to ensure no student is disadvantaged by these changes."
But NSW Teachers Federation Hunter organiser Annette Bennett and Public Service Association organiser Paul James said the reduction in jobs would have an impact on students.
"These workers support our students," Ms Bennett said.
"They work hand in glove with teachers to ensure that students are properly supported and indeed that they are safe while they are on a campus."
"Without the support staff there, the teachers' jobs are going to be more demanding and they're going to take less time for the students," Mr James said.
Deputy Labor leader Yasmin Catley said "any job loss in regional NSW is incredibly significant".
"We know TAFE is important," she said. "It's also so much more important in regional areas where we know it creates good quality skilled jobs that pay well.
"Every job in TAFE that's lost means less quality in teaching. It means less quality in schools, it's poorer outcomes for students."
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