As students enrol in a fresh batch of courses for 2013, University staff and management continue to play out the battles of 2012. Max Chalmers reports.
University of Sydney students may find themselves arriving at empty lecture halls in week one of 2013. Academics are set to walk off the job in March next year after 200 National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members convened and voted in favour of strike action last week.
At the heart of the unfurling drama is an unsuitably bland document: the University of Sydney Enterprise Agreement. Sonnets and soliloquies it ain’t. But what the Enterprise Agreement lacks in Shakespearean flair, it makes up for in importance. The document sets out the relationship between the University and a vast number of the staff it employs. It sets levels of pay, leave allowances and—here’s the big one—terms of redeployment and redundancy. In May, the current agreement expired. Since then the process of renegotiation has snowballed into industrial action.
NTEU Sydney Branch President Michael Thompson told Honi Soit that the University had been unresponsive to the demands of its employees. He accused management of intentionally dragging out negotiations.
“We’ve been bargaining since August. We’ve had six meetings in four months. They don’t care about what staff think,” Mr Thompson said.
Mr Thompson also alleged that in the wake of the protracted fight over staff cuts the University administration was trying to strengthen its powers to rush through such changes in the future.
“The only proposed clause that they have put on the table is a Managing Change clause. Given we’ve just had a big fight around managing change with the job cuts, their managing change clause was a provocation, it would allow them to do anything at anytime,” he said.
The University administration has denounced the NTEU’s decision and rejected Mr Thompson’s accusations.
“It is totally misleading to suggest the University has been ‘going slow’,” a spokesman for the University said.
“The University is disappointed that the NTEU intends to take industrial action at the beginning of the next academic year. This will particularly hurt new students and it seems the NTEU pays little regard to the interests of students.”
With the NTEU and university management escalating rhetoric, 2013 appears poised to play out the same conflicts that dominated 2012.