University staff enterprise agreements across Australia have expired and are now being renegotiated. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is trying to win better pay and conditions for university staff. In many cases, staff have had no pay rise for 12 months or more, with most university managements refusing even to make a wage offer. At La Trobe University, the “administrative pay rise” given by management, usually used as way to defuse bargaining tensions, actually amounts to a real wage cut after inflation.
The demands of the NTEU are centred on excessive workloads, appalling casualisation and lack of job security. Half of all undergraduate teaching is done by casual staff. The log of claims submitted by the union pushes for a wide range of improvements, including to the Indigenous employment strategy and general staff classifications.
After months of bargaining, most university managements are refusing to budge on key NTEU demands. Melbourne University is trying to restrict the role of the NTEU. La Trobe and RMIT are trying to cut redundancy payments significantly. Griffith University is refusing to recognise Indigenous employment strategies.
As a result, all Victorian universities – where negotiations are generally further advanced than campuses in other states (except Sydney University) – have now voted for industrial action. At Victoria University, staff voted to ban immediately the unpopular staff performance monitoring system. La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash and Deakin have held stop-work meetings. RMIT, Swinburne and Deakin are implementing results bans, and La Trobe will soon follow suit. Griffith failed by a narrow margin to get the necessary turnout to authorise action, but the branch is discussing re-balloting.
It’s unlikely that satisfactory agreements will be offered without a fight. Only serious disruption to university functioning will force senior managers into offering improvements in pay, workloads and job security.