By Nick Fredman
LISMORE — A May 19 stop-work meeting of more than 200 unionists — the largest at Southern Cross University (SCU) for many years — unanimously rejected an enterprise bargaining agreement offer and discussed possible industrial action. In a joint statement issued after the management offer was made on May 12, the National Tertiary Education Industry Union (NTEU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) characterised the offer as a "miserable joke" and "an insult".
The offer, made after three months of negotiations, includes a 1.5% pay rise over three years with a possible extra 0.4% contingent upon university income (that is, a cut in real pay), a demand that all staff be placed on Australian Workplace Agreement individual contracts, refusal to consider a clause qualifying management's prerogative to change the agreement, and the loss of all conditions outside the stripped-back minimum conditions allowed for under the Workplace Relations Act.
"We don't really understand why it's such a miserable deal", CPSU SCU organiser Vicki Finlay told Green Left Weekly. "If it was designed to get staff angry and offside, it's achieved its goal."
Finlay thinks that the university administration is keen to get unions off the campus altogether, but their "incompetent" attempt to bully staff has already backfired. "There's one good thing about the deal: with such a horrible attack on conditions we can recruit new members, talk to the membership and look at different forms of industrial action. This is what will move management." A number of staff joined the two unions at the stop-work meeting.
Despite some recent tensions over demarcation issues, the NTEU and CPSU have worked together in the negotiations and will jointly organise industrial action if management does not compromise. "Management have always attempted to split the NTEU and CPSU", the NTEU's Chris Game told the stop-work meeting. "One thing that absolutely aggravated them in the negotiations is that the NTEU and CPSU have acted as one."
Staff can also count on the support of students. A student rally against the federal government's proposed "voluntary student unionism" legislation and funding cuts held concurrently with the staff stop-work was informed of the staff's decision to reject management's offer and responded to a request for support in any future industrial action with roars of approval.