Queensland University takes union to court
By Robyn Marshall
BRISBANE — On November 26, the management at the University of Queensland took the National Tertiary Education Industry Union (NTEU) to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in a clumsy attempt to weaken the union's position in enterprise bargaining negotiations. UQ management is smarting from its loss of an October 28 staff ballot on its pay offer of 7.5% over three years.
At the commission, management alleged that a short e-mail that NTEU UQ branch president Kuldip Bedi had sent to members had incited them to take "unprotected" (illegal) industrial action. Management also tried to get the commission to order the NTEU to hold another secret ballot of all academic staff regarding the university's revised offer and to suspend all industrial action during the conduct of such a ballot.
Commissioner Tony McIntyre made it plain that the request that the NTEU ballot all staff — union members and non-members — was ludicrous. The NTEU offered to send out a short e-mail message clarifying that "protected" industrial action around the transmission of exam results could begin on December 1, if management withdrew its two other complaints, which it agreed to do.
Since then, management has made a revised salary offer of: a flat payment of $750 to each staff member, to be paid on the pay day of December 17; a salary increase of 4% on January 2000; further salary increases of 3% on April 1, 2001, then another 3% on April 1, 2002. This adds up to 10.33% over three years, plus the $750 payment.
At a general meeting on December 1, the NTEU branch rejected the offer and called on management to resume negotiations with a view to resolving the matter by December 6. The meeting also resolved that examination results be withheld until December 7.
UQ management has decided to pay each member of the academic and research staff a lump sum of $750 on December 17 and a further salary increase of just 2.5% from January 1. The 1997 enterprise agreement will remain in force.
It seems that management is attempting to win the favour of federal education minister David Kemp. The university intends to apply to Kemp for a 2% grant and says that if it is received it will be passed on to staff as a "one-off" additional payment, in lieu of a proper wage increase in 2000. However, to receive the grant, management must prove that it can significantly weaken the union.