La Trobe University’s pathway institute La Trobe Melbourne was hit by a 24-hour strike on 28 May over stalled enterprise agreement negotiations with Navitas, the multinational corporation contracted to run the facility since it was privatised in 2010.

La Trobe Melbourne is pitched as providing an alternative pathway into a bachelor degree course at La Trobe University. Domestic students pay around $20,000 a year to attend the school. Navitas turns huge profits but is trying to gut conditions provided in the now expired staff enterprise agreement – conditions that are standard just across the road at La Trobe University.

Specifically, it wants to reduce long service leave, cut redundancy payments, continue to casualise and deny casuals (about 60 percent of staff) any prospect of permanency.

A spokesperson for La Trobe Melbourne Navitas told a local newspaper that the benefits staff are fighting for are “a legacy from their former employment [at La Trobe University]”.

Tensions had also recently been piqued by the institute’s April relocation to a new, state-of-the-art building that has already exceeded its staff desk capacity. Casual workers have been forced into “hot desking” arrangements, with no place to store personal belongings.

NTEU branch president Ramesh Presser told Red Flag that the work space arrangements in the new building have been the driving force behind a successful union recruitment campaign over recent weeks. According to Presser, casual workers “feel unappreciated and disrespected by the situation” and have been joining the union at a rate of more than 10 a week.     

The union installed temporary lockers in the new building for staff to use during the day. In response, management complained that the “unidentified metal objects” – UMOs – were a safety risk and had to be removed. In a win for staff, management subsequently agreed to provide access to shared lockers and pigeonholes.

The Fair Work Commission has ordered the parties to continue enterprise agreement negotiations. In the meantime, staff plan to continue with existing work bans and will meet again to discuss further actions.