Worth the Battle? A Trip Down Enterprise Bargaining Memory Lane 

As the fight for better pay and conditions in the University’s enterprise agreement finally ends, was it really worth it? Analysis by Peter Hyslop. 

A near two-year administrative game of tennis between staff unions and University management has ended in a new enterprise agreement. The terms include a 13% pay rise backdated to when squabbles began, new leave entitlements including Life Leave and paid concession days, and better pathways to permanent roles for casual staff.   

But with the dust now settling, was it really worth all the picket lines? 

Let’s take a look at how negotiations spectacularly fell apart, and what it means for the future. 

Remember last year? 

There’s one union who have been particularly salty about pay and conditions. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) had a set of demands in talks, and turns out they were willing to be quite militant to have those met. 

After a year of diplomacy, a strike was organised in September 2022, with members claiming negotiations weren’t getting anywhere. Staff walked out of work for a day, citing increased workloads and a pay deal that wouldn’t keep up with the cost of living. 

Back then, it was a measly 6% pay rise that was being offered, including a “one off cash payment” to staff. The uni appeared to be getting their bargaining advice from a shonky car salesman. So, it was back to the drawing board. 

Nothing to Sneeze At 

Another eight months of squabbling pass. When the pay increase offer skyrockets to a whopping 13%, select members of staff begin to get frustrated. Some believed the NTEU was milking the opportunity to get better outcomes, just that little too much. 

Something well-known about the saga was the battle lines between the NTEU (for academics and other staff), and the Community and Public Sector Union (for professional staff). In a statement aptly titled The Broken Telephone Game, the CPSU declared “the time for negotiating about minor differences is over, we want the ballot to proceed and the agreement lodged as soon as possible and this faffing around with trivialities is aiding no-one.”


The Fair Work Commission 

It’s now May, and things start to heat up. With negotiations moving slower than most Newcastle buses, the University did the brave thing and asked for Mum (aka the Fair Work Commission). 

In communication to staff Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky said he was disappointed with progress, given a draft enterprise agreement was agreed to in-principle by the NTEU, then ditched after a union meeting. The VC wanted to make clear 13% was the University’s best offer. 

So, the NTEU decides to strike. Again. 

In the end, Mum sorts out the problems. The university is forced to put in some clauses about pathways to secure work, and the NTEU is forced to stop being unrealistic with pay demands.  

It does leave you wondering, why didn’t they just do that in the first place? 

Kids these days. 

Feature image by Pete Hyslop, Yak Writer

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