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After union campaign, staff at WSU’s The College “overwhelmingly” reject enterprise proposal

The WSU NTEU President said that staff have no choice but to move to industrial action.

Staff at The College at Western Sydney University (WSU) have “overwhelmingly” rejected an enterprise agreement proposed by management after a union campaign, with 78% of staff voting against the deal.

The College is WSU’s feeder institution, providing short bridging courses for domestic and international students before they start their bachelor’s degrees.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), have been engaging in a difficult enterprise bargaining process with The College management since its previous agreement expired in January 2020. Though both parties nearly reached a resolution in July, they have since ricocheted further apart. 

The President of the WSU branch of the NTEU, David Burchell, spoke exclusively to Honi, detailing reasons why The College’s proposals led to widespread staff disillusionment and a successful union campaign against the deal in August. 

One reason pertains to an offer of a salary “increase” of 1.25% per year. Considering that this rate did not match inflation, which hovers around 2%, “this is a clear pay cut,” claimed Burchell, who also said that “the Vice-Chancellor wouldn’t move” on this proposal. 

Burchell explained that these cuts did not stem from financial issues or a lack of revenue, considering limiting salary increase by 1.25% instead of pinning it to inflation at 2% would save the University only $750,000. Rather, he claims that “[WSU] management wanted to lower expectations of pay,” which could serve as justification for another round of future pay cuts. 

WSU management also continued to promote high rates of casualisation, and offered different pay rates of marking for casual and permanent workers. Burchell said this increased staff’s disdain of The College’s proposals. 

Burchell says that to resolve the stalemate, workers at The College have no choice but to move to industrial action against The College. 

However, industrial action is significantly more difficult to effectively organise under COVID-19 lockdown regulations. “We can’t have rallies,” he says, or “be in management’s faces,” highlighting a fear that the pandemic could delay negotiations even longer.

Whilst enterprise bargaining between staff and The College have come to a failed standstill, staff are in the early stages of bargaining with WSU management, and are hopeful as to the outcome. 

A spokesperson for WSU claimed that a consensus on the majority of clauses was achieved before negotiations fell apart. Counter to the NTEU’s claims, the spokesperson asserted that the parties achieved consensus on “increased flexibility and remote working arrangements” and “an ongoing commitment to casual conversions.”

WSU staff have previously raised concerns about WSU’s approach to flexible working. During negotiations in 2016 for enterprise agreements covering all staff at WSU, the NTEU pushed amendments for flexible working hours for professional staff, and won further provisions allowing for remote working.

This decision was made years prior to the pandemic; one can expect, therefore, that the issue will be a greater concern for enterprise bargaining in 2021. 

Zuie Hervey, English teacher at The College, said that staff refused the pay offer because they felt that WSU did not recognise the “challenges faced and overcome by College staff in ensuring the continuity of high-quality teaching and learning since the onset of the pandemic.”

The WSU spokesperson noted improvements for domestic violence leave provisions, which was another clause flagged for concern in 2017, where unions. fought for leave entitlements for any staff member experiencing domestic violence or related circumstances. 

“We’re the ones that know how policies work in practice, and their impact on both staff and students,” said David Lenton, WSU sessional teacher. 

The WSU spokesperson said that The College is making arrangements with the NTEU, as well as the Independent Education Union (IEU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), to recommence negotiations.