A February 12-14 "national bargaining forum" of lead negotiators for the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) set a determined course for industrial and political campaigning over the next three years. Key outcomes include an aggressive bargaining strategy and a linked public policy campaign that will be both national and grassroots.
The industrial strategy is designed to claw back losses incurred by post-secondary education workers under the Howard government. Since the introduction of the Higher Education Workplace Reforms in 2005, the union's role in general university life has diminished and the NTEU's pattern bargaining strategy became dispersed. The new strategy aims to bring agreements more into line by the end of 2011. It includes some bold claims: a 27% pay increase; enforceable regulation of limits on workloads; an extensive Indigenous employment strategy; a return to provisions that constrain the use of contract employment; improved parental leave and superannuation; and expanded union rights.
The three-year strategy is broken into two rounds of agreements to allow compliance with new federal industrial legislation expected to take effect in 2010. The public policy campaign aims to increase public investment, protection of the integrity of research and teaching, and academic freedom, and seeks a new universities act.
University of Ballarat NTEU president and Socialist Alliance member Jeremy Smith told Green Left Weekly, "The new strategy is a positive move. Collective agreements that deliver consistent outcomes will reduce some of the inequalities of conditions between universities. An allied political campaign will work best if it can effectively pressure and embarrass the Rudd government if it fails to deliver serious improvements in funding."
The University of Ballarat is the first NTEU branch to commence bargaining. It enters negotiations on March 14 on the back of a successful end to a long running case in the Federal Court over the use of Australian Workplace Agreements (individual contracts). Staff who signed AWAs are able to come on to the existing union collective agreement and then the new agreement when it's finalised. Members have voted unanimously at three separate meetings for the log of claims.