Negotiations between the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the University of Sydney regarding the new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) have entered a critical phase.
The EBA will determine pay and working conditions for USyd staff over the next three years.
Although the NTEU has secured some important concessions, management’s rejection of several claims could ultimately lead to industrial action.
The current EBA, which was finalised in 2013 following an 18-month negotiation, led to seven days of strikes including the disruption of Open Day.
To some extent, the University appears to have taken a more conciliatory approach this time round, though with pay negotiations to occur only late in the process, there could well be a sting in management’s tail.
After a long campaign from the NTEU, the University agreed to extend EBA protections to employees of Sydney Talent, a placement service which provides USyd students with jobs in a variety of typically casual administrative roles.
Many of these students were paid significantly below EBA standards. Honi understands USyd has been back-paying many Sydney Talent employees wages in excess of $1000 each.
The University also backed down from an attempt to undo ‘40-40-20’ protections for teaching and research academics. The ‘40-40-20’ rule determines the percentage of time academics may spend on teaching, research and administrative work respectively. Its removal would have severely curtailed the autonomy of academic researchers, by allowing the University to force them to undertake more teaching and administrative tasks. Yet despite these successes, there is a concern amongst NTEU members that many important demands are not being met by management.
The NTEU is worried that the University’s current restructuring process could seriously undermine job security for staff. According to NTEU Sydney branch member Alex Marsh, management opposed the union’s important ‘no forced redundancy’ claim, paving the way for numerous lay-offs as the University merges several faculties together. Progress has also stalled on claims regarding rights for casual employees.
In addition, management is seeking to remove a requirement that new positions be advertised internally before advertising externally. Professional staff at USyd are typically not promoted within their roles; instead, career progression occurs by applying for other higher-paying jobs at the University.
It is not yet certain whether we will see industrial action over coming months. However, Marsh told Honi that “there are clear indications that we need to be prepared to take industrial action if we are to secure our key claims, and to protect ourselves against management attempts to wind back important staff rights.”
As required by the Fair Work Act, the NTEU is currently conducting a secret ballot of its members to decide whether to undertake industrial action should various demands not be met by management.
The NTEU’s ballot closed on Friday 4th August, with negotiations set to continue throughout semester two.