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Name: Paul Whitehall

Workplace: St George TAFE

Paul Whitehall is a long-serving Fed Rep, who has notched up 26 years at Randwick TAFE and St George TAFE over his career.

He’s the type of person who does not take injustice lying down and has not backed away from fighting a number of battles on behalf of students and teachers who have been bullied by the system.

In one incident at Randwick TAFE in 2015, he supported an unemployed female evening student who was living in a women’s refuge with her children. The Baird Government had just introduced a new harsh fees structure that disadvantaged students such as her.

“She was invoiced to pay thousands of dollars,” he said.

Her only other choice was to abandon her right to better herself in TAFE.

At that time, if students had at one time enrolled in a higher level qualification, they were not entitled to a student concession when they later enrolled in a lower level course such as Certificate III in Business Administration, which Mr Whitehall was then teaching.

Fortunately, the story had a happy ending. Mr Whitehall took the issue to the student’s MP, Liberal member for Banks David Coleman, and she received a scholarship after the policy was changed later that year.

“So I believe I partly contributed to this change,” he said.

The lesson learned in this situation? “No one should never underestimate or give up on the power of personal contact with MPs in presenting the facts to make change that impacts on the betterment of students’ lives.”

Collective strength

Mr Whitehall said he belongs to Federation because he wants to contain his working conditions, including class sizes. The union gives him collective strength and also the protection of Federation on such issues.

“Class-size creep is rearing its ugly head again in TAFE,” Mr Whitehall said.

Courts are now expecting a higher duty of care, at the same time as younger and less experienced students are enrolled in TAFE.

“So keeping class sizes at a safe level is essential.”

'Now with students paying thousands of dollars, value for money is a consideration for students as consumers'

Oversized workshops are a problem and on the legal front, the Workplace Health and Safety Act now holds individuals, including TAFE teachers, to account for accidents and breaches in workshop or classroom.

TAFE teachers must now factor in workplace health and safety for students. As a result, Mr Whitehall believes Federation membership has never been more important for TAFE teachers.

It is all the more important for teachers to consider becoming Fed Reps at the institutions as “TAFE is so highly casualised now that the support network of full-time teachers is diminishing and it’s getting harder to get someone to take on the role”.

The TAFE environment has changed and teachers have been forced to cut costs by increasing class sizes and reducing the hours of delivery, while they are expected to deliver individualised attention in classrooms and workshops.

“Now with students paying thousands of dollars, value for money is a consideration for students as consumers,” he said. “Social media is also used quickly to condemn teachers or courses and TAFE marketing monitors anything untoward at TAFE.”

IT issues

Other issues he regards as important are workload, compliance overload, the training of younger TAFE teachers, currency in technology and technology disruption, including IT student record systems such as the NSW Government’s EBS computer system, which he believes has failed students and TAFE.

The EBS system is a part of the government’s Learning Management and Business Reform (LMBR) program, which has been rolled out across the state over the past decade.

Signing up new members in TAFE is also a high priority, with retirements and fewer members in TAFE for the next Award to be negotiated in 2019.

Class-size dispute

In his role of Fed Rep over the years, the achievement Mr Whitehall is most proud of is leading a dispute against a class-size increase of an extra five students in TAFE computing classes in 1996, which targeted mainly women.

“Federation agreed to support us in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board,” he said. The case got as far as a compulsory conference and TAFE dropped the case as it would have damaged its reputation.

“I was so proud that the TAFE teachers refused to take the extra students from day one at that time, despite the pressure of individual letters and faxes to teachers from TAFE management to increase class sizes.”

So after all those years of action, why did he originally take on the role of Fed Rep? “Colleagues thought I’d be good at the role,” he said.

- with Shelley Dempsey