Small majority delivers a big win at Swinburne

Swinburne University management won big on Friday with staff endorsing its proposed enterprise agreement despite fierce opposition from the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. Granted the win is slim – 1031 endorsed the offer with 974 voting no. But a win is a win and assuming Fair Work Australia decides the agreement meets the no disadvantage test it looks like the university community has an agreement a year or so after bargaining began. This result will surprise industrial relations experts. The previous agreement adopted with the NTEU opposed was at Charles Sturt last spring and there the union vote was split, with the Community and Public Service Union recommending its members sign. But the NTEU is the only union at Swinburne and its opposition was widely expected to be enough to defeat the vote. Managements at universities where bargaining is still underway will be wondering whether they dare attempt the same. “I thank everyone who voted this week, as it is through your voice, your action and your support, that we can move forward with a good and fair new Agreement,” Vice Chancellor Linda Kristjanson told staff on Friday night. So what will the union tell members?  If officials can find 60 or so staff who were not on the roll or whose votes were incorrectly tallied they could well announce a challenge. I imagine we will know later today.

Oh, that cut!

Kim Carr was in terrier mode in Senate Estimates last week, querying Aiden “dark arts” Byrne about a $10m cut to the Australian Research Council and asking Human Services Minister Marisse Payne how this gelled with the government’s promise not to cut research funding. Good question – but which government? It turned that the decision to cut funding was Labor’s, before the election.  “We’’ll move on. As quickly as possible,” Senator Carr replied.

Not quiet on the Curtin front

Even an enterprise agreement does not ensure peace in anybody’s time. At Curtin University staff met on last week to discuss academic restructuring and the Equip administrative change program. Local NTEU president Tony Snow says people are worried by the way management wants to move selected staff from teaching and research to teach only positions. The way work is classified also causes conflict; with Mr Snow saying he has lodged a dispute over the way management classifies higher degree supervision as a research task. The Equip Program is designed to outsource administrative functions and according to Mr Snow up to 60 staff have already gone under a voluntary redundancy program with another expected. He says the international office is now targeted with functions being outsourced. University management has promised to respond.

Optimistic ARC

There was much anticipation among research managers on Friday as adepts in the dark metric arts waited for an important announcement from the Australian Research Council – and at 3 pm it arrived! The ARC posted dates for Excellence in Research for Australia 2015 reference periods. And if this was not excitement enough at 6.45pm the ARC published the first edition of its newsletter for the year in which Aidan Byrne (funnily enough) rejects charges that the way research money is allocated is too complicated and the number of good projects that fail is too high. “it gives me great pride to be part of the process that gives so much support to so many outstanding researchers that we are so fortunate to have in this country.  The future looks very bright for research and innovation in Australia.” At least until the budget.

Half baked sell  

A few years back when Mitsubishi announced it was closing its Australian assembly plant some PR genius accentuated the positive, announcing the company was switching to a full-import strategy. There was a bit of this in La Trobe’s Friday announcement that it will cut 350 jobs, which was headlined, “La Trobe on track for reform”. The statement went on; “La Trobe University is on track to implement a series of efficiency and quality-driven reforms.” It also stated that 85 per cent of staff will survive. Please. Vice Chancellor John Dewar has worked hard with the university community to make the case for the cuts but there is no way to talk-up the brutal fact that this morning hundreds of people at La Trobe fear for their futures. It is as disrespectful as it is unnecessary to sell this as a positive thing instead of unavoidable but unhappy news.

Life as usual @ UWS

ABC Sydney radio ran news of a staff strike at UWS disrupting students in the main morning bulletin on Friday – undoubtedly inadvertently, making it seem a bigger deal than it was.  In fact the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union called for “one hour action” on all five UWS campuses and management said it “business as usual”.  Despite a year of EB negotiations nobody seems set on a big brawl. Then again nobody seems determined to do a deal.