By Nick Fredman
LISMORE — Around 150 staff members of Southern Cross University (SCU) rallied on July 15 during a two-hour stoppage to demand a better offer from SCU management in enterprise bargaining negotiations. Union members were visibly angry at management's offer and heavy-handed response to the workers' industrial campaign.
Negotiations broke down in May. SCU management proposed a 1.5% pay rise over three years, the loss of all conditions not covered by the Workplace Relations Act and the placing of all staff on individual contracts. National Tertiary Education Industry Union (NTEU) chief negotiator Chris Game told the rally the pay "offer" was in real terms a 6% pay cut.
A mass meeting of the SCU Lismore and Coffs Harbour branch of the NTEU voted unanimously on June 21 to hold a series of stoppages in second semester and put in place a number of work bans. The administration responded on July 13 by demanding that the staff unions pass on the names of all members participating in the July 15 stoppage, so that their pay could be docked. After the unions refused to pass on the names, management announced that all staff would be assumed to have stopped work and have their pay docked, unless they informed the administration otherwise.
Management also announced that henceforth NTEU dues would not be deducted by the university pay office — a move that NTEU national assistant general secretary Ted Murphy told the rally had never before occurred at an Australian university.
"It's petty and pathetic" NTEU SCU branch president Vicki Harriott told Green Left Weekly. "The refusal to deduct union dues is a punitive measure against individual staff members, rather than the unions — and we've had advice that it's illegal.
"Through the whole dispute we're received increasing support from staff, and many applications for membership. [vice-chancellor Barry] Conygham is the best recruiting tool we've ever had."
Rally speakers said that far better enterprise agreements have been won at the Universities of Sydney, NSW and Western Sydney. Harriott told Green Left that although the university is crying poor, it is enjoying the productivity gains made by harder-working staff using fewer resources.
SCU made a profit of $6.4 million in 1998 and had reserves of $25.6 million. It is spending millions on prestige projects such as a commercial aquatic centre, rather than fund decent salaries.
Alison Watson, president of the SCU branch of the Community and Public Sector Union, explained to the rally that the CPSU had missed the "72 hours' notice" deadline required for legal industrial action, but that many CPSU members were "taking a tea break" in order to attend the rally. The CPSU will be joining the NTEU in future stoppages, she said.
Some students are already backing the staff campaign. Bernie Wunsch, organiser of the Lismore branch of Resistance, commented, "We'll be mobilising students to help the industrial campaign until the administration backs down".