Enterprise bargaining at ANU

October 23, 1996

By Douglas Kelly

CANBERRA — Early in 1994, opponents in the ANU Staff Association of the National Tertiary Education and Industry Union "National Framework Agreement" predicted the following consequences of enterprise bargaining (EB): redundancies, closures, deteriorating conditions, more marketing of education as a commodity.

These warnings have been proven true, exposing the hollowness of reassurances that salary increases could be funded from "savings" and eliminating "waste". The union leadership's line has switched to the defeatism of "EB is the only game in town". Yet, in this game, the dice are loaded and the casino is run by Kennett's mates.

The truth began to dawn when a prolonged industrial campaign in 1995 was needed to get a 3.33% increase and the costs were smartly passed on to faculties and schools by not filling vacant or contract positions. After the successive betrayals of ALP minister Simon Crean's loans for salary increases scheme and Amanda Vanstone's "nicks" to education funding, staff at ANU are now face-to-face with the ugly realities of EB. Management has offered 8.6%, to be funded by the loss, according to their figures, of 261 jobs out of 2824, with at least as many more jobs to go as a result of the Vanstone cuts.

Opinions differ as to whether these figures are inflated to maximise dismay or understated to dampen suspicion. Yet the result is the same: workers are being asked to pay for their own wage and salary increases by giving up jobs — a policy about as sensible as feeding yourself on your own blood. In EB negotiations management's clear plan is that job redundancies will pay for the costs. Any unmet demand for courses can be filled with casual staff and media learning packages bought on the open market.

Management freely admits that EB is even worse nonsense for universities than elsewhere, but it still sets about implementing it. Management's collaboration (a word I use advisedly) is necessary for putting the Vanstone policy into effect. It shows no willingness to resist Vanstone and every willingness to fight its staff. Management's main concern is to be seen to be running the university "responsibly", which means licking the boots that are going to kick it, and us, in the teeth.

So far in the EB round, the ANU branch of the NTEU overwhelmingly rejected the 8.6% offer because it was too low and required staff to give away precious award conditions. The branch has widened its industrial action.

Vanstone has said that universities in Australia are not providing any leadership. To prove her wrong, our universities need to take a leading role in stopping EB. The cure for EB is straightforward and uses existing methodology: united action by staff and students to stop universities becoming academic sweatshops selling degrees.
[Douglas Kelly is a senior lecturer in Classics, and president of the ANU branch of the NTEU.]

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