Ballarat uni forced to issue clarifying statement over ‘misleading’ AWAs

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Ballarat uni forced to issue clarifying statement over ‘misleading’ AWAs

The tertiary education union has forced the University of Ballarat to issue a ‘clarifying statement’ over what it says are ‘misleading’ claims over AWAs being offered to academics and staff members.

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The tertiary education union has forced the University of Ballarat to issue a ‘clarifying statement’ over what it says are ‘misleading’ claims over AWAs being offered to academics and staff members.

However the Federal Court has dismissed the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) application for an injunction preventing it from offering the AWAs before the matter goes to trial.

The NTEU says the University has given an undertaking to the Federal Court that it will issue a ‘clarifying statement’ to all university staff, explaining the employment conditions that staff will lose if they sign an AWA.

Union comment

The University will also be prohibited from making any further AWAs until 6 March, while the statement is circulated amongst staff.

‘This is an enormous victory for the staff at the University of Ballarat,’ NTEU Victorian Division Secretary Matthew McGowan said.

‘The University is now obliged to tell the truth about what signing an AWA will mean, which is that staff will lose important employment conditions.’

Vice-Chancellor's response

A statement by Vice Chancellor Prof Kerry O. Cox said that Justice Neil Young of the Federal Court said that while he had not had the benefit of full argument on any of the issues raised by the submissions made, he considered that the applicant had demonstrated that there was an arguable case that should be dealt with at a full hearing of the matter.

However, Young considered, ‘...that the case that has been demonstrated by the [union] at this stage is towards the weaker end of the spectrum’ and he was, ‘...not satisfied at this stage that there is a serious question to be tried that [the University of Ballarat] breached any ... implied contractual term.’

Prof Cox said the Judge ruled that continuing influence of the December 2005 statements [which the union claims are misleading] is:

  • likely to be minor, if they have any effect at all,
  • that the academic community is generally well informed about the differences between the EBA and the proposed AWA,
  • and that the December 2005 statements have been overtaken by a substantial amount of subsequent information.

However the judge said ‘while there is some force in [the University’s] submissions, there must be some risk that the December 2005 statements may have some ongoing influence on some staff members’, in his opinion ‘the undertakings proposed by [the University of Ballarat] are a complete answer to the application for interim relief’.

‘The proposed undertakings remove any real risk that staff members will be induced to enter into AWAs between the date of the order and the date of the trial as a result of the allegedly misleading statements that were made in December 2005,’ the judge said.

Background

University of Ballarat staff lodged a class action in the Federal Court against the University, claiming that it had issued false and misleading information about the content of AWAs to induce staff to accept them.

University employees have twice rejected enterprise bargaining agreements which mirrored the terms of the AWAs the University is now insisting they sign.

‘Clearly, the Federal Court proceedings have revealed that the University has a significant case to answer over the misinformation that was circulated to staff, and the outcome today reflects that,’ McGowan said.

‘It’s now time for the University management to heal the rifts that have developed over the last 12 months with staff by properly negotiating a new collective agreement that protects the salaries and employment conditions of all staff.’

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