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Majority of USyd staff vote to keep bargaining with University for better pay

The vote strengthens the Union’s bargaining position by showing most staff support its approach

The EBA negotiating process rolls on. The EBA negotiating process rolls on.

In a poll conducted today, over 60 per cent of University of Sydney staff voted to keep bargaining with the University for a better pay offer.

The University has offered staff a 2.1 per cent pay rise every year for the life of the agreement — an amount that, coupled with improvements to hours of pay for casuals and parental leave, is relatively generous compared to other universities’ offers in this round of EBA negotiations, but below the current rate of inflation in NSW.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is holding out for annual pay rises of 2.4 per cent across the life of the agreement. The University spends over $1 billion each year on staff salaries, so the 0.3 per cent difference between the two parties’ positions equates to more than $3 million a year in wages.

Thirty-nine per cent of staff voted to proceed to formally vote on the University’s offer.

In total, over 4000 USyd staff members voted in the poll.

An enterprise agreement must be accepted by a majority of workers for it to be legally binding. That can happen in two ways.

The first, which has happened in all previous negotiations at the University of Sydney, is that the union and the university jointly recommend an agreement that is then voted in by staff as a formality.

The second, which the University attempted this week, is for the employer to work around the union and ask staff to approve the EBA directly.  

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence told staff that the offer “represents a fair and reasonable package that would enhance the working conditions of staff at the University and assist in maintaining the University’s sector-leading remuneration and benefits.”

By contrast, an open letter from NTEU members in the arts faculty described the poll as “an unconscionable attack on the NTEU’s role as the defender of staff rights and working conditions on campus. We are being asked either to accept management’s efforts to move staff onto an agreement that lacks the union’s endorsement, or else face the suspension of negotiations.”

When Honi put those claims to the Vice Chancellor yesterday, he responded: “We had been getting the message from all sorts of staff across the university that people wanted the opportunity to think about the process and indeed to think about whether they were ready for a vote. It didn’t seem an unreasonable request… in an environment where there was an impasse between us and the NTEU on the question of the salary.”

The NTEU is set to meet with the University tomorrow, after which it is likely that the Uni will suspend negotiations until early 2018.

A planned Union strike on September 13 is set to go ahead next week as the Union seeks to pressure the University into resuming negotiations and accepting its proposed wage increase.

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