An international union-busting exercise is unfolding in Melbourne, and ground zero isn’t the docks or the airport but the city campus of RMIT University.
RMIT is a massive company, annually taking a billion dollars in revenue and registering $50 million in profit. It is also one of Melbourne’s biggest landowners, holding 68 buildings and around 6 percent of total land area in the CBD. But it doesn’t end there. With its enormous billboards and ostentatious campuses popping up throughout south-east Asia and even Barcelona, RMIT has gone global.
So it’s no surprise that the latest dispute in RMIT staff’s 16-month EBA campaign centres on the university’s campus in Vietnam and a longstanding business partnership with the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).
Lecturers at SIM are Melbourne-based RMIT employees, including many NTEU members who participate in our industrial action. But when these workers recently took protected action and banned exam marking, RMIT management responded by secretly dumping almost 6000 completed exams on unsuspecting staff in Vietnam, where the NTEU has no legal standing.
Attached was a cheerful call for volunteers to participate in a “trial”project for pocket money – with no mention of the industrial action in Melbourne.
The plan immediately ran into trouble. Management like to think we all work in self-contained silos, easily pitted against each other. In fact, within minutes of the blacked exams landing in Ho Chi Minh City, suspicious staff there contacted our union office in Melbourne.
They even leaked us a copy of management’s memo, complete with a list of addressees,we knew who had been contacted to do the work.
A large snap meeting of members in Melbourne enthusiastically backed my proposal that we write to those Vietnam staff listed, explaining the situation and asking them to refuse the work. That letter received a torrent of positive replies from Vietnam, some of which we printed and distributed to staff in Melbourne.
One Vietnamese worker explained: “I met with all … staff in Saigon and none seemed keen to be involved … they had no idea why they were being asked in the first place. I certainly am not getting involved … How can we expect RMIT Melbourne colleagues to work with us if they think we are working against them?”
Another noted the growing tensions on the Vietnam campus: “We have not received a pay increase in over three years and a yearly bonus has been taken away so our actual salary has decreased. The number of ‛senior’ non-teaching management has greatly increased and they are earning large salary, benefit and travel expense packages … There is little trust and a great deal of dissatisfaction …”
On 11 November, the Fairwork Commission ordered the NTEU to lift the ban on marking the exams. The union is appealing. Meanwhile, thousands of Melbourne staff continue fighting for an acceptable collective agreement, with strike action escalating over coming weeks.