Nick O’Malley, Sydney Morning Herald, October 3, 2006
The State Government has been attacked for allegedly training Chinese to work in the Australian construction industry at the same time Labor is criticising the Federal Government over the use of short-term foreign labour.
The course has led to bitter disputes within TAFE. One senior employee accused a colleague of selling out Australian jobs.
Cr Ray Harty, a Labor member of Baulkham Hills Council, who also runs an accredited trade skills training centre, accused the NSW Government of hypocrisy over the partnership between a TAFE-owned company and a recruitment company that is providing courses in construction trades in Shanghai.
Last night a spokesman for the NSW Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, denied there was a conflict, and said none of the Shanghai students were being taught with a view to coming here.
He said a commercial arm of the NSW TAFE system — TAFE Global — was working in partnership with SkillForce in a program designed to train and assess students in skills for use in China.
“TAFE Global did not award any Chinese worker with any qualification that would be recognised in Australia,” he said. “The results of these practical skill exercises provided under the contract had no validity for migration purposes.”
But a series of internal documents obtained by the Herald suggests the courses were designed to prepare people for work on Australian sites.
A report by a TAFE employee who co-ordinated a pilot program recommends that an Australian standard house brick should be made available in China to improve teaching and that “safety signage consistent with that encountered on Australian worksites would enhance the appropriateness of the assessment”.
The report on an August program for 139 people in bricklaying, plastering and carpentry included a photograph of 24 candidates at the Shanghai training centre standing under a banner that says, “Australian Construction Workers (Internal Decoration Workers) Examination Site.”
A letter about the program from Marie Persson, deputy director-general of TAFE and Community Education, to the NSW Teachers Federation begins: “I respond to your letter .. seeking information on a TAFE Global project in China related to skilled worker assessments for prospective candidates to work in Australia.”
The letter outlines the commercial arrangement between TAFE Global and SkillForce, before noting that the courses had no validity for migration purposes.
An internal newsletter published by TAFE Global says: “Our client … recruits skilled workers in China for deployment to Australia and other countries.”
The SkillForce website, bearing the TAFE Global logo, boasts that one course “will begin the Australian cultural acclimatisation of new employees”. It says another course would include the finer points of Australia’s workplace culture, such as the “smoko”.
The contract between the two partners has not been renewed.
A TAFE official who asked not to be named said he believed Ms Tebbutt had not been briefed properly on TAFE Global’s operations in Shanghai. He said TAFE NSW, through TAFE Global, is trying to profit from the industry growing around the importation of foreign labour into Australia.
It was clear that many of the workers who undertook the assessments in China would seek work in Australia, but that the assessments themselves did not meet Australian standards.
In an angry email exchange between TAFE staff, one accuses a colleague who worked on the program of selling out “the jobs of Australian workers and apprentices for a short-term gain”.
The NSW Industrial Relations Minister, John Della Bosca, said yesterday workers coming here on temporary working visas were threatening job security.
“We are now seeing entire workforces imported into Australia working for less than Australian rates of pay and conditions,” Mr Della Bosca said.