University and NTEU fail to reach agreement

Strike action remains a possibility after management rejects union claims

picture of NTEU, staff and students protesting USyd NTEU members strike in a previous industrial action.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the University of Sydney are yet to reach a satisfactory agreement regarding the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).

As Honi reported last week, some of the NTEU’s claims have been granted, such as allowing student employees of Sydney Talent protections afforded by the EBA. However, there are still a number of union demands that the University has so far denied.

Importantly, management has continued to reject several claims relating to employment security, a hot topic in light of increased casualisation surrounding the the University restructure.

In the 2013 agreement, management accepted NTEU demands for 120 academic positions which were exclusively available to either casual or fixed-term staff, doing work which ordinarily would have been done by other casuals. The University now wishes to openly advertise these roles, without requiring that the work is available to any existing casual or fixed-term employees.

Management also rejected proposed NTEU provisions guaranteeing University staff a right to reemployment if their original positions were to become redundant.

Furthermore, the University has continued to stand its ground regarding the immediate external advertisement of newly available positions. This is in contrast to the request of the NTEU to maintain the current practice which requires that new positions are first advertised internally to already existing staff for a minimum of five days.

NTEU members worry that without these concessions, the career progression of University employees will be hindered.

Additionally, the University has not responded to the NTEU’s wage claim, while the union has deferred management’s own wage offer several times.  In mid-July, the University deferred, then ultimately rejected the NTEU’s bid for sick and maternity leave for casual staff. It is possible that the union’s wage claim may be similarly rejected. Management will likely present its final wage offer on August 14th.

Kurt Iveson, the Sydney University branch president of the NTEU, told Honi that the union “would not accept a simple ‘no’ on key claims such as these.

The NTEU has further proposed various improvements to increase staff participation in employer decision making, including democratically elected workload committees, and local joint consultative committees in major service areas in order to curb instances of managerialism.

The University has so far declined such proposals for increased consultation. Iveson maintains that any increased concentration of power at the hands of the university is against the interests of both staff and the university alike. This is because the proposed improvements provide a more cohesive model of communication.

Iveson is still unsure as to whether there will be industrial action. However, the NTEU are willing to strike if it is necessary to secure their demands, and are currently conducting a ballot this week, which if successful, would provide the legal foundations for protected industrial action. Iveson acknowledges the impact of industrial action on students, but anticipates strong student support as was seen in 2013.

“We want the power to shape the university as a space for learning and research that is not driven by profit, but by the public good.”

NTEU members will meet to discuss industrial action this week.