NTEU wins coverage of general staff
By Daniel Jardine
A decision handed down on November 15 by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission will give the National Tertiary Education Industry Union the right to cover general, non-academic, staff at all 38 universities in Australia. Previously, the NTEU could cover general staff only in Victoria, the ACT and the Northern Territory.
The decision is a setback to the federal Coalition government's attempts to sideline the NTEU, weaken union representation and further reduce job security in universities.
Based on the commission's interpretation of section 204 of the Workplace Relations Act 1996, the decision grants about 30,000 general staff the right to choose to join the NTEU. It does not remove the right of general staff employees to join any other union that has coverage rights within the university sector.
The case before the commission resulted from ballots that were held during 1997 and 1998 at several universities, including the University of Western Australia, the University of Tasmania and Macquarie University, in which general staff expressed a preference for NTEU membership by a two-to-one margin.
There is expected to be a major increase in general staff membership of the NTEU following the decision, because a significant number of general staff have been awaiting AIRC permission to join.
Having academic and general staff in the one union should result in more concerted action to obtain better conditions for all university staff. It should also prevent university managements playing off one group against the other.
The Community and Public Sector Union, which holds an entitlement to represent general staff, has announced that it will appeal the decision.