Enterprise Bargaining at UNE

NTEU Industrial Action

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has announced recently that they will be taking industrial action at universities across Australia in response to stagnated re-negotiations of casual and permanent contracts with University boards. The NTEU announced in January that they would hold a ballot to determine what kind of action would be taken, with possibilities ranging from bans on responding to emails, to a 24-hour strike.

UNE Vice-Chancellor Jim Barber responded to the January ballot announcement in a release to staff on January 30th, denouncing possible strike action, saying it was “unfortunate that the NTEU leadership feels the need to resort to old-style confrontational tactics like this”. He also accused the NTEU of painting university management as a “faceless enemy” by referring to them as “management”. “ ‘Management’ is not at war with you and we don’t need strike action to convince us that these are tough times for universities.” he said, calling for “cool heads and good will on both sides” in order to reach an agreement.

The ballot was announced after 9 months of enterprise bargaining negotiations, with most of the points proposed by the NTEU receiving no response or flat refusal from the university. Including a proposal to implement targets for employment of indigenous people to reflect their proportion in the population, which according to the NTEU’s enterprise bargaining update for March 2013 received the response “We won’t be agreeing to the targets”.

On February 21st a motion passed to act on two of the possible actions: “Bans on working in excess of a 37.5-hour week for academic staff and a 35-hour week for English language teachers (or pro rata for part-time)”, and, “Bans on allocating more than 20% of total workload to administration duties for academic staff, and, bans on working more than 15 hours per week on administration and non-teaching duties for English language teachers.” Which, as NTEU Branch President for UNE Tim Battin points out, amounts to staff “working the hours we are paid for and no more”.

With 15% of NTEU members out of the New England area at the time and unable to vote, approximately two thirds of the remaining members at UNE voted for the above actions.

In Sydney, staff members at the University of Sydney staged a 24-hour strike on Thursday the 7th as part of the nation-wide industrial action. NUS President Jade Tyrrell commented on the significance of the strike, saying, “Given this strike is the first of its kind at the university in a decade and it’s in the first week of semester, it is clear the staff feel they have no other choice.”

The less dramatic action being taken at UNE may not be enough to bring about a significant response, suggests Tim Battin. “We can hope, I suppose, that this might work, but we feel that it will probably take more severe forms of action to get the management to see reason.”

For more information on the industrial action, visit http://www.universitybargaining.org.au/

- Stu Horsfield

Capitalism with a Cause