Vic budget cuts apprentice incentives

VICTORIA has soured its $200 million TAFE sweetener by cutting $20m from apprentices’ incentive payments.

The cut to the Apprentice Trade Bonus, announced in yesterday’s state budget, removes two $250 payments to traditional trade apprentices in their first year of training.

Opposition skills spokesman Steve Herbert said the cut was unexpected and would hurt. “Apprenticeship wages are pretty tight. They’ve had massive fee rises. Now the government’s cut one of the few incentives they have to support them, at a time when we’ve seen a 16 per cent drop in apprenticeship numbers.”

The Victorian TAFE Association said trade apprenticeship enrolments were down across institutes. “It’s disappointing that the lowest paid workers are having their progress payments withdrawn,” said executive director David Williams.

He said the VTA was also disappointed that the government hadn’t reinstated funding for community service obligations.

The budget rubber-stamped the $200m TAFE structural adjustment package promised two months ago by new Premier Denis Napthine.

In a statement, Skills Minister Peter Hall said $100m would be awarded to TAFEs for infrastructure proposals “to help them better compete with the private sector”. The other $100m would be for structural and operational reform proposals that offered “improved financial sustainability”.

Mr Hall said funded initiatives could include an infrastructure master plan for outdated facilities or a metropolitan institute teaming up with regional TAFEs “to deliver niche training across several rural towns”. He said guidelines for the structural adjustment fund would be released soon.

The Australian Education Union said it was disappointed with the budget. “The $200m won’t do anything to employ a teacher or reduce students’ fees or return a course that’s been cut,” said state vice president Greg Barclay.

“We don’t see it as a reinvestment, which is the way it’s being sold. It’s a parcel of money institutes can apply for, with no guarantee that they will get it, to continue to implement the business changes forced on them by the 2012 budget cuts.”