National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members have been on indefinite strike at the Centre for Adult Education (CAE) since November 18, in pursuit of a new agreement with fair pay and conditions.
Staff and their union have been trying to negotiate a new agreement since February 2011, and have not had a pay rise since May 2010. Their pay is 20% behind teachers in the TAFE sector, despite the Box Hill TAFE buying the CAE back in 2010.
The union says that CAE management, with state government interference, want to strip away union rights, protections against bullying and violence in the workplace, consultation, redundancy and the right to arbitration.
NTEU Victorian Division Secretary Colin Long said in a statement: “An agreement was reached at the end of 2011, but six months later the CAE reneged on the agreement, after interference by the state government. A new agreement was reached at the end of 2012 and again they reneged on it, and in June this year they put over 30 cuts to employment conditions on the table.”
On November 20, NTEU's daily protest outside the CAE in Flinders Lane was strengthened by solidarity from striking NTEU colleagues from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), who were taking their own 24-hour strike action in pursuit of their own enterprise agreement. This made for a vibrant lunchtime protest, complete with musicians, drums and the sound of honking horns in support from passing motorists.
Green Left Weekly spoke to Michelle McCann, a community services teacher and NTEU workplace delegate at CAE. She said: "There is nothing we are asking for that is outside state government policy. There is something else driving this ... we're starting to think that the Board [of CAE] has an ideological position on not going to [consent] arbitration.
"It is 65 years CAE has been here and they have never had industrial action. The first one we have taken has been indefinite ... People thought we might be out for possibly two or three days, but after we got the response from management yesterday [stating that they would not consider the issues raised by staff until next week], people got so angry their resolve lifted.”
A hardship fund has been established by the NTEU to support these workers, and CAE students have launched a petition in support of staff.
Kate Wiggans, an organiser with the NTEU, told GLW that morale was very high on the NTEU picket line at CAE, in spite of the attitude of management towards staff, which Wiggans described as "utter contempt".
She told GLW that the pay offer of 5% over four years will mean in effect a pay cut to staff. "I think management are really rattled. I think they have completely underestimated the commitment of these members and they were blindsided [by the strike action]."
RMIT staff have been trying to negotiate fair pay and conditions for 15 months with university management, which, according to the union's RMIT branch, "has pretended to listen to staff concerns whilst having no intention of reaching a compromise". The union is seeking to include important rights and conditions in the agreement that are now sitting in policy, where they are legally unenforceable.
RMIT management has also tried to impose a widely unpopular Behavioural Competency Framework (BCF) on staff that the union wants abolished. Other outstanding issues include workloads, job security and career paths for casual staff, as well as access to secondment and protection of rostered days off for technical and professional staff.