Professor Joellen Riley, Dean of the Law School, is leading the University’s ongoing negotiations with staff over the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).
The EBA determines working conditions and pay for both professional and academic staff at the University for a four year period. The current EBA is set to expire this year, but it is traditionally extended if negotiations continue past its formal expiry date.
Riley is a labour lawyer by trade — experience that will be applicable in negotiating the terms of employment for hundreds of staff . She is an author of the prominent textbook Macken’s Law of Employment and has written on subjects ranging from unfair dismissal to the relationship between common law and statute.
As a dean of a major faculty and academic, Riley’s participation in the negotiations in a formal capacity on the University’s side is notable.
Some of her own pay and conditions will be determined by the EBA that is eventually negotiated. Moreover, as dean, one of Riley’s core duties is to represent the interests of staff at the law school.
A University spokesperson told Honi that “In her position as Head of School and Dean of Sydney Law School, Professor Joellen Riley has been appointed as the lead negotiator for the University.
This will not conflict with Professor Riley’s responsibilities as Dean, given she is not providing legal advice to the University.”
However, renegotiating bargaining agreements often pits management against staff, as both parties come to the table with very different goals and priorities.
As a negotiator for the University, Riley may be forced to advocate against positions that law school staff have put forward through the NTEU on matters ranging from research time to rates of pay.
Recent EBAs at Australian universities have involved lengthy and bitter disputes between staff and management.
In 2013, negotiations for the current agreement involved seven days of strike action. Agreements at UNSW and Murdoch University have culminated in court proceedings.
Riley’s role could therefore create discord within the faculty, especially if the University were to push for a deal that harmed staff job security.
However, Riley’s appointment may well be a tactical one, both for management and staff.
According to the NTEU, disputes at other universities have arisen because of the “aggressive tactics” used by “union-busting lawyers”.
By appointing someone from within the University, with a greater understanding of staff interests, management may be hoping to avoid such protracted and unsavoury legal battles.
The negotiations, still in their preliminary stages, continue this week.