UNSW NTEU rejects ‘second-class offer’

September 24, 2010

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) is calling on professional, technical and general staff to reject a management offer of a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). The union says it fails on salaries, job security and on respect.

The offer will be put to a ballot of all non-academic staff this week, following a deal between the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and university management. Both unions cover non-academic staff. The CPSU will be campaigning for a “yes” vote.

The NTEU will run a strong “no” campaign. It says the pay offer is poor; the deal puts no regulation on the use of fixed-term and casual employment, and that it is designed to divide academic and non-academic staff by offering general staff a “second-class” agreement.

The CPSU has praised the agreement. But an article in the September 22 Sydney Morning Herald, “Universities set to conquer over divided unions”, presented the agreement as a clear victory for management.

“The vice-chancellors of Macquarie University and the University of NSW are on the brink of significant victories in the battle over university rationalisation after outflanking the National Tertiary Education Union in their continuing wage disputes”, the SMH said.

“The deal … undermines the NTEU's opposition to the casualisation of university workforces.”

An NTEU statement said the agreement also threatened flexibility in annual leave entitlements.

It said: “Management wants to force staff to take up to three weeks leave, at a time of its choosing, whenever a staff member accumulates six weeks or more. The NTEU supports staff taking their leave, but excessive workloads are the main reason why staff cannot do so.”

Under the 2003 agreement, staff were entitled to accumulate up to 10 weeks’ leave, and under the 2006 (current) agreement, staff are entitled to accumulate eight weeks.

CPSU campaign material in favour of the agreement — which will last three years — said: “You will get a 19.5% cumulative pay increase PLUS a $1,000 sign-on bonus.”

However, the NTEU said this is misleading; it includes 6% that has already been paid since July 2009, via administrative pay adjustments, and therefore totals 19.5% (compounded) spread over four and a half years, rather than the three years of the agreement.
“In reality, management’s offer is a mere 4.33% per year compounded, for the next three years — far below the 5.1% per year that colleagues at the University of Sydney have won”, the NTEU said.

The sign-on bonus won’t make up for a poor pay outcome, the union said. “After just six months, we’ll be trailing our colleagues at Sydney university on pay.”

UNSW NTEU branch president Susan Price told Green Left Weekly staff should ask themselves why management is willing to pay such a sign-on bonus, and consider what they are losing out on in terms of pay and conditions if the agreement is adopted.

“[UNSW vice-chancellor] Fred Hilmer’s agenda is two-fold”, she said. “First, to achieve a low outcome for general staff and thus suppress overall wages and conditions. And second, to set a benchmark for deregulation of the labour market in the university sector overall.

“The SMH article is right on one thing. If this agreement gets up, it will be a victory for management, not staff!”

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