NTEU strike demands conditions, respect

September 13, 2009

On September 9, more than 60 unionists picketed the University of New England (UNE) during the one-day strike called by the UNE branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

The picket, together with the spirited rally of more than 100 members in town later that day, sent a strong message to management.

The NTEU, like the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, were selected for special treatment under the previous anti-union Howard government. Howard tied university funding to fulfillment of the draconian Higher Education Workplace Regulation Requirements (HEWRRs).

The NTEU is campaigning to regain pre-HEWRR conditions. UNE management's latest offer falls well short.

"It's time UNE management realised that the last election was fought and lost on industrial relations", branch president Tim Battin told the rally.

Bargaining commenced more than 14 months ago. The union has accused management of treating the NTEU's bargaining team with utter contempt. Management representatives admitted they had not even read the NTEU's latest proposals at a recent bargaining meeting.

"We are not only fighting for salaries and conditions, but for a fundamental shift in management's attitude towards staff", Battin said. "Show us respect!"

The rally also heard from staff at the English Language Centre (ELC). Management has praised the centre for its excellence, but its staff are among the lowest paid teachers in Australia. All staff, except the director and one teacher, are employed as casuals or on short-term contracts.

Unfortunately, management has succeeded in dividing the two unions on campus. The NTEU represents both academic and general staff, while the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) represents general staff only.

The CPSU has campaigned against the current arrangement of a single agreement for all staff at UNE.

On September 9, the CPSU accepted a separate offer from UNE management while NTEU members, including some general staff, were on strike.

Management has now called a ballot on its proposed general staff agreement. The agreement will cover ELC staff, but doesn't offer any improvements for them. All unionised staff at ELC belong to NTEU. The NTEU is campaigning to vote the proposal down.

As several speakers at the rally emphasised, this is just the start of the campaign to regain our rights.

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