Last week the Government's polytechnic reforms were introduced into Parliament to start the reform process.
The Auditor-General has stated the reforms will be the biggest upheaval of public entities (16 polytechnics and 11 industry training organisations) in the past 30 years.
It seems to me the reforms are mainly all about the 16 polytechnics. It is true that 150,000 industry learners such as trade apprentices in carpentry, plumbing and electrical services are also involved, but this is mostly a by-product of needing to fix polytechnics.
Some polytechnics are high performing, including SIT (Invercargill), Ara (Christchurch), Otago (Dunedin), NMIT (Nelson), UColl (Palmerston North) and EIT (Hastings).
Unfortunately they are a minority which are producing small surpluses ($1million to $5 million) each year which become somewhat dwarfed by net deficits in big institutions like Unitec in Auckland (-$30m).
In this article Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti described 'financial losses in big institutions like Unitec in Auckland (-$30M)'. For clarification, this is the net deficit for 2018 and the operating surplus is reported as $3.6M.
Polytechnics have had decreasing student enrolments for several reasons including falling school leaver numbers and a solid economy. When the economy is performing well, people go to work instead of training at a polytechnic.
The funding mechanism to polytechnics has not incentivised or rewarded high-quality courses and teaching. When we were in government we had some of these issues and some polytechnics struggled in our hands also.
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The Government's solution with these reforms is to increase polytechnic enrolments by making all the tradies enrol in polytechnics as of April 1 next year. The reforms will close big industry training organisations like BCITO and send all the tradies to polytechnics and then merge all the polytechnics into one called the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST).
Why would you do this ?
Apprentice and tradie numbers have been increasing over the past five years and we all know how hard it is to get a plumber or a builder at the moment. Industry training is not broken, so why would you mess with it.
Polytechnics on the other hand, generally, are somewhat broken but throwing apprentices at them is not the answer.
Why are apprentices and industry learners being used as a Band-Aid for polytechnics?
All is not well for the proposed megapolytechnic either. The bill itself mostly had what we already knew and what had been leaked to us: 16 polytechnics merging into one, loss of regional autonomy, cash reserves hovered up into a consolidated fund and industry training and apprentices taken over by the one megapolytechnic.
The real surprise was the removal of employment protections for staff made redundant. On April 1 next year, polytechnics become subsidiaries and then two years later they merge into the megapolytechnic.
It is the merge into the megapolytechnic where the problems arise. The bill states that it will override Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act (vulnerable worker protections for cleaners, laundry and food services) and any employment protection provisions that all other workers have!
The supposed government of the labour force overriding job protection provisions for vulnerable workers!
We will fight hard for workers to have a fair say and at the same time bring forward positive policies for what we would do different.
What we have already said is that we will fight for regional autonomy, we will return polytechnic assets taken by this Government and we will place industry training back with industry.
• Dr Shane Reti is Member of Parliament for Whangārei.