By David Gosling
CANBERRA — More than 900 staff at the Australian National University voted overwhelmingly on June 24 to demand an enterprise bargaining agreement that guarantees no net job losses, maintenance of superannuation contributions and a pay rise in line with other large universities.
The meeting also voted to consider industrial action if the ANU administration has not returned to negotiations by July 9.
The meeting was the largest union-organised meeting at ANU for at least a decade. For the last three years, ANU, the third richest tertiary institution in Australia, has paid the lowest wages and recorded the highest number of job losses in the country.
In the 1996 federal budget, ANU lost 2.7% of its operating grant. The administration responded by slashing funding to courses and shedding staff, far more than the government cut required. In 1996-98, the equivalent of 430 full-time jobs were lost, a 12% staff reduction.
While student numbers have remained fairly stable, the faculties' share of the operating grant has been cut to pay for things like redundancy payments and superannuation contributions. Now the administration is trying to force the faculties to cut courses and staff to pay for "their" deficit.
The ANU made a profit of $23 million last year, but the money is being spent on new buildings, investments, building up massive cash reserves and on the "Endowment for Excellence" fund (no-one knows what it's for, but it contained $47.5 million at last count).
Like other large research-based universities, ANU gets a lot of its money (38%) from non-government sources. Postgraduate and overseas student fees earn a lot of income, as do ANU's investments and its corporate arm, ANUTECH.
ANU is manoeuvring to be "internationally competitive" in a deregulated university sector. As in all moves towards corporatisation, the workers and consumers suffer.
In the current round of enterprise bargaining, management has offered only a 4.4% pay rise, with no guarantee of job security or maintenance of superannuation contributions. Meanwhile, after a long campaign, including strikes and various bans, Sydney University staff have won a wage rise of around 16% and a guarantee of no net job losses. The momentum is growing among ANU staff for a similarly strong campaign.