'Historic' Ballarat agreement boosts NTEU strategy

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has finalised the first agreement in a new round of collective bargaining in universities. The University of Ballarat agreement gives a 10.9% pay increase over 15 months.

A range of other gains include an increase in loading for casual teaching staff, access to far superior superannuation for TAFE workers, improved workload limits and provisions for academic freedom, an environment clause and an Indigenous employment strategy.

The new collective agreement will replace the last Australian Workplace Agreements, which resulted from a long fight between the university and the NTEU in 2005-06. Some 300 staff out of the 1000-strong work force signed AWAs during a bitter campaign by the university to weaken the unions. A subsequent two-year class action was settled out of court earlier this year, paving the way for the new union collective agreement.

Matthew McGowan, secretary of the Victorian NTEU division, said in an August 18 statement, "This will deliver significant benefits to staff and it will place the final nail in the coffin of AWAs at the university." Describing the agreement as "historic", he said it clawed back many conditions lost under former PM John Howard.

Ballarat branch president, Dr Jeremy Smith, added: "This will represent a new chapter for the staff at the University of Ballarat. We will have an agreement that provides significantly improved conditions, particularly in the areas of workloads, salaries, conditions for casual staff, Indigenous employment and superannuation."

Smith told GLW: "This one's a trailblazer in two ways. First, we are hoping that it will break deadlocked negotiations with other universities around the country. Secondly, some of the provisions are quite new. The commitments made on Indigenous employment include employment targets, increased ceremonial and cultural leave and a process of consultation with the local community.

"Another first for post-secondary education is a set of environmental provisions that encourage sustainable practices across the institution's six campuses."

Further progressive measures include sustained parental leave of 26 weeks at full pay. Limits on the use of fixed-term contracts will likely result in an increase in secure, ongoing jobs. Casual staff will get access to long-service leave and casual academics will be paid separately for marking. Improved career structures for casual and full-time staff are built in.

The short agreement will surprise many in the union movement. Commitment to develop a further agreement for 2010-11 will deal mainly with pay, an expansion of Indigenous employment and a new legislative environment. Most conditions will be rolled over.

McGowan explained the strategy by saying, "We wanted one set of negotiations to cover three years, but we wanted to do it in two parts because of changes to the industrial landscape and also the Bradley review that is expected to deliver some additional funding to the sector".

The NTEU is planning an industrial campaign at other campuses in the wake of the Ballarat agreement.