NTEU Members stopped work last Wednesday over a new draft enterprise agreement, writes Peter Hyslop.
Members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) stopped work on Wednesday in protest of a new draft enterprise agreement for UON staff, putting pressure on university management to make union demands a reality.
The union is asking for a higher pay rise, better job security and more reasonable workloads for staff. Negotiations have been ongoing for the last 18 months, and previously resulted in industrial action in September last year, after a draft agreement was offered directly to staff without meeting NTEU demands.
And, after back-and-forth bargaining resumed this year, the union says not enough progress has been made.
Cue more chaos.
“The changes that are proposed to…this enterprise agreement include enormous changes to academic workloads,” said NTEU Newcastle branch president Terrence Summers last week, speaking exclusively to Yak Media.
“There will be, I believe, less time for the academics at least, to devote to investigating new ideas,” he said.
Summers said that allocating less time to research means less opportunities for students to learn from cutting-edge work in the field and reducing the quality of the student experience.
“The students are disadvantaged by it. It becomes more like a VET institution than a university, and I think that is a retrograde step,” he said.
In response to Yak’s questions, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Professor Kent Anderson denied this claim. Professor Anderson said the allocation of work “…is treated separately to enterprise bargaining and is not contingent on the outcome of negotiations,” and that existing work allocation models were “…a great outcome for the experience of students.”
Staff and management appear to be on different planets.
But that isn’t the only concern of staff raising the alarm. The NTEU says jobs, particularly casual positions, are too unstable and are affecting employees with short contracts and poor progression options.
Summers said the NTEU wants to protect staff from “change process after change process,” but told us there isn’t sufficient job security protections in the agreement, and that is impacting the mood in the lunchroom.
“I believe staff morale is decreasing and has decreased to an all-time low as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
In the new agreement, the University has offered a pay rise of 9.5% over three years, but that is contested by the union. The NTEU has called it “misleading maths at its finest,” as the increase doesn’t account for the period since the old agreement ended in 2021.
“I know plenty of people here that are paying rent and are not on huge amounts of money. If they go backwards, in real terms, big time, they won’t be able to pay their rent,” Summers said.
While the University claims the existing offer “…supports our long-term financial sustainability,” the NTEU is digging its heels in, saying staff are undervalued as the University posts profits in the millions.
When will it end?
It seems unlikely the disagreement will resolve any time soon. Both sides are prepared to compromise, but it seems not enough.
Perhaps the moment of truth will be the introduction of a new agreement. If staff still feel they haven’t been heard, these protests might become a semi-regular reality.
“Members of the NTEU are in this job because they want to be in the job, they want to be teaching and they want to be doing research, they don’t want to be taking industrial action,” Summers told Yak.
Call it a peace offering, in a time of turbulence.
Feature Image: NTEU NSW via Facebook