The USyd Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has voted to endorse University Management’s Enterprise Agreement in a members meeting with over 800 participants.
This meeting was the largest in NTEU history, with 688 members voting for the agreement, 172 against, and 21 abstentions.
After 22 months of bargaining, the union has secured a pay rise, paid sick leave for casuals, gender affirmation leave, the creation of 330 ongoing academic roles and internal advertising for upcoming vacancies. There are also notable changes to leave entitlements, First Nations employment, job security, work-life balance, professional and academic staff and education-focussed roles.
In a previous members meeting, two-thirds of the membership voted to endorse the agreement conditionally, provided further progress be made in terms of education-focussed roles and First Nations employment.
Though the majority of the branch considered the demands satisfactorily met, the “Vote No” campaign had reservations about the wins. Members expressed dissatisfaction with the expansion of the exploitative education focussed roles and the lack of protections for casual staff.
NTEU National Secretary Damien Cahill addressed the membership and urged them to vote yes to the agreement. He reported that the national executive has endorsed this agreement, emphasising the “sector leading wins” such as the highest pay rate in the industry, a sector-leading Joint Consultative Committee for First Nations employees and a commitment to paid casual sick leave.
Cahill said that voting against the agreement would either lead to a non-union ballet, or management would apply for an intractable bargaining order, under the new laws, where the Fair Work Commission would arbitrate and determine the outcome.
“Whatever way the vote goes will have profound implications for NTEU members beyond the USyd branch… A yes vote will show what the NTEU can achieve and will give a huge boost to other branches,” Cahill reported.
USyd Branch President Nick Riemer delivered his report, and emphasised the union’s role as a “leading branch”, setting an example for “assertive campaigning”.
Though Riemer mentioned the demands won in the new agreement, he said it is also a “greenlight to a massive structural degradation of academic working conditions”. Riemer also emphasised that rejecting the agreement would require “further campaigning at a significantly higher cadence than before”.
Before the final vote, the Union held a debate, hearing speakers for and against the motion to support the agreement.
Professor John Buchanan spoke for the agreement, emphasising the importance of negotiating practical outcomes, “not pushing for a winner-takes-all formalism.”
Dr Peter Chen also supported the agreement, emphasising that the wider NTEU community would be unlikely to support the USyd branch for turning down an offer better than what they had seen. He also emphasised that losing a non-union ballot would hurt the union, and that “a No vote now would squander two years of our work”.
Sophie Cotton spoke against endorsing the agreement, citing three key problems: the expansion of EFRs, looming casualisation and the pay offer which would represent a real pay cut against rising inflation. She also noted that should the branch vote no, she would move a motion for a 24-hour strike next week.
Alma Torlakovic also spoke against the agreement, noting that university management is in support of it. She spoke to the precarity facing casual workers, noting the “explosion of education focussed roles”. Torlakovic also said that in terms of First Nations targets, “management just have to make platitudes”, with no means of enforcement.
Torlakovic proposed a motion to extend the debate saying, “This is the most important vote for three years.” However, the motion was overwhelmingly opposed.
Riemer moved a motion that the “Branch commit its full resources to a member-led enforcement campaign to ensure that the provisions of the new agreement are observed and improved.” It passed with little dissent and members were urged to sign up to the committee.