Uni staff in uproar  - claim Govt ‘extortion’ on AWAs

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Uni staff in uproar - claim Govt ‘extortion’ on AWAs

University staff will meet this week to consider their response to a Government announcement that future funding increases to universities will depend on them offering every employee an AWA.

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University staff will meet this week to consider their response to a Government announcement that future funding increases to universities will depend on them offering every employee an AWA. 

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has described the move as ‘extortion’ and a direct attack on the independence of universities. 

‘The Government is now telling universities what to do in terms of employment of staff,’ Dr Stuart Rosewarne, President of the NTEU (NSW) said. 

‘They are interfering with management processes, and the normal running of universities.   

‘No other Australian employer will have its funding cut if it doesn’t kow-tow to bullying.   Extortion is not a choice’.

Proposed changes

The changes demanded by the Howard Government require higher education providers to: 

  • Provide employees with genuine choice and flexibility in agreement-making by offering AWAs to all new employees employed after 29 April 2005, and to all other employees by 31 August 2006.
  • Include a clause in their certified agreement made (or varied) and certified after 29 April 2005, that expressly allows for AWAs to operate to the exclusion of the certified agreement or prevail over the certified agreement to the extent of any inconsistency.
  • Have workplace agreements, policies and practices which provide for direct consultation between employees and the university on workplace relations and human resources matters. The involvement of third parties representing employees must only occur at the request of an affected employee.
  • Have workplace agreements, policies and practices which facilitate and promote fair and flexible arrangements. Working arrangements and conditions of employment are to be tailored to the circumstances of the university and benefit both the university and its employees.
  • Have workplace agreements, policies and practices which do not inhibit the capacity of the university and its employees to respond to changing circumstances, including by not placing limitations on the forms and mix of employment arrangements.
  • Have workplace agreements, policies and practices which support organisational productivity and performance and include a fair and transparent performance management scheme which rewards high performing individual staff.
  • Have workplace agreements, policies and practices which are consistent with freedom of association. Universities must not use CGS funds to pay union staff salaries, or fund union facilities and activities.

Government's position

The Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, told a Higher Education conference last week that the Australian Government provides around $8 billion a year in funding to the sector and ‘has a responsibility to ensure these funds are expended efficiently and effectively to ensure the Australian taxpayer is getting value for money’. 

‘There is relentless competition in the international marketplace – demand for both students and academics,’ Andrews said.  

‘So far Australia has been successful in selling education to the world - it’s our sixth largest export industry worth around $6 billion a year.  

‘The reality is that universities vary.  

‘Because of this, management and leadership capability is critical to the ability of universities to meet the challenge of achieving and sustaining increased productivity and efficiency.’ 

Pattern bargaining to go

Andrews said that despite many improvements over the past years, ‘there are still too many workplaces in the higher education sector trapped on the pattern-bargaining merry-go-round’. 

‘The culture of pattern-bargaining that exists in the higher education sector restricts management discretion and induces uniformity of conditions, making workplace arrangements generally inflexible and prescriptive,’ he said. 

‘Universities need to be able to respond flexibly to the needs of their constituencies including potential and existing students, staff, employers, industry, local and regional and national communities.’ 

Union predicts industrial turmoil

However the NTEU says the Government’s demands have plunged universities into a state of industrial turmoil. 

It said the ‘reforms’ include requiring universities to offer individual contracts to every university staff member by 31 August 2006 in order qualify for increased funds.    

‘This will force some universities to negotiate up to 5,000 individual contracts to cover their staff,’ said Chris Game, NSW State Secretary of the NTEU. 

‘This agenda comes as no surprise to the NTEU, which represents more than 7000 academic and general University staff in NSW and 27,000 nationally,’ she said. 

‘Regrettably, University workers and their families have now moved to the top of the Howard government’s hit list.’  

Dr Rosewarne said university staff ‘just want to get on with the job of delivering quality education and research’.   

‘Now the Government with its ideological obsessions is going to force universities staff away from this and towards defending their own working pay and conditions from being slashed.    

‘Universities are independent institutions and should be free from ideological straight jackets’

‘Not only will the NTEU campaign against the government, we also believe that universities should reject the Government pronouncements.’   

NTEU members will be meeting this week at all NSW universities to consider their response.

Details

Both Minister Andrews speech and his joint press release with the  Minister for Education,  Brendan Nelson, detailing the changes can be found here

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