Union pursues careers advisers' concerns

Mary Fogarty
Joan Lemaire

SIG members express worry that the Department's guidelines would be a disincentive for employers to take on students for work placement

Federation will continue to monitor careers advisers’ concerns about employers being disinclined to accept students for work placement, and teachers’ legal liabilities and workload.

This follows the Department’s responses to matters raised by Federation in a letter to Department Secretary Michele Bruniges.

Prior to Federation’s correspondence with the Department, members of the Careers Advisers Special Interest Group raised significant concerns about the Department’s Advice on Completion of Student Placement Record to meet the Department’s Standards — Information for host employers. This document applies to all teachers involved in vocational education and training work placements, work experience and other forms of workplace learning.

The document requires employers to provide specific responses about the tasks students will undertake, the risks to the student, how the risks will be managed including induction, supervision and use of personal protection equipment. Teachers are asked to check that the employer response meets the standard the Department requires and determine whether or not to approve the placement.

A key concern raised by the SIG was that the requirements and tone of the document are likely to act as a disincentive for employers to host student placements. In particular the request for “specific, exact information” on tasks, duties, risks and risk management involves significant work for employers to identify and explain in detail the work to be done and specific risk management strategies. If host employers believe that these requirements are too onerous they will not continue to provide placements.

The Department response was: “The Department’s advice to host employers provides clarity and practical examples. The steps outlined in the documentation provided to employers require them to do no more than what they should be doing in any event to meet their obligations under the WH&S Act.”

Of equal concern is the requirement for the teacher to ensure that the employer provides a satisfactory response in relation to risk management. This presumes that teachers will have sufficient knowledge of the risks, the equipment, and work systems to determine whether the employer response does meet a satisfactory safety standard. This will impose additional workload and responsibility on teachers as they may have to guide employers in relation to their responses. If this process is unacceptable to the employer and they cancel the placement, teachers will have further work in finding new placements. Teachers are concerned that in supporting employers to provide a satisfactory response, they are assuming additional legal liability in relation to risk assessment and management.

The Department’s response was:

“A number of issues need to be considered:

  • the process being adopted is one that addresses the duty of care owed to students
  • provided teachers obtain the relevant information from employers prior to approving the students to take up the placements, no liability attaches to staff
  • teachers are entitled to rely on the information provided by employers as evidence of appropriate risk assessments. They do so in other contexts such as students attending off-site activities approved by the school
  • if there are any doubts about information provided by host employers, staff should be encouraged to seek further information in order to satisfy themselves that the employer has properly planned for the placement. This should be no different from longstanding practice.

In summary, so long as teachers obtain the relevant information from employers and follow up on any obvious or perceived short comings in the information provided, then no legal liability attaches to the individual teachers in the event an accident occurs. As the employer, the Department will be vicariously liable for the actions of its staff.”

The Department’s letter states that “any further enquiries should be directed to Sharon Ford, Director Secondary Education”. If teachers have particular concerns about their legal liability in relation to work placement they should seek advice from the Department.

Federation’s Senior Vice President Joan Lemaire will attend the August 4 meeting of the Careers Advisers Special Interest Group to discuss issues with members. The meeting will be held in a meeting room on level 1 of Teachers Federation House, 23-33 Mary Street Surry Hills at 4.30pm. Country members may become corresponding members by contacting Dr Mary Fogarty at mfogarty@nswtf.org.au.

Dr Mary Fogarty is a Research Officer and Joan Lemaire is the Senior Vice President. A copy of the complete Departmental response can be provided on request.