A bargain for workers that beats bureaucracy and bastardry

The present employment model resembles a metaverse scripted by Franz Kafka and designed by M C Esher

Margaret Gardner (Monash U VC) calls for a universities-unions “grand bargain” to sort out employment praes.

This includes, “systematic difficulties in interpretation of payment schedules, and therefore payment accuracy, that have exacerbated issues for the employment and payment of those in insecure employment.” (CMM June 9).

She has a point, cases come before the Fair Work Commission in which the parties to industrial agreements can’t agree on what agreements in agreements they agreed to mean. In one Uni Newcastle dispute the FWC politely pointed out, “the parties have understandably had a high degree of difficulty in considering these agreement clauses” (CMM September 6 2021).

But there are also cases where agreements are interpreted to suit. Thus Deputy Fair Work Ombudsman Rachel Volzke advises Mary O’Kane, of Accord fame, (CMM June 5) that good university governance includes “remuneration structures where non-compliance is not indirectly incentivised, for example, not rewarding meeting labour budgets where the work required to be done objectively requires more human work than budgeted.”

So with bureaucracy and bastardry embedded in the system what can be done?

Perhaps a broader bargain. On the eve of the present round of contract negotiations at universities across the county, the learned Elizabeth Baré and colleagues proposed matching academic and professional career structures to emerging needs, CMM HERE

* for job descriptions: minimum standards for academic levels were developed in the ‘90s, “ reflecting the narrower scope of academic work.” And as Ms Baré and (other) colleagues also point out, professional staff classifications from decades back may not address skills-mixes, gender pay gaps and differences in market based pay rates for casuals and continuing staff (CMM November 3 2022).

Not to mention classifying people whose jobs did not exist 30 years ago. Last year National Research Collaboration Infrastructure System directors called for a new job classification system for their techs, who are neither academics nor admin staff (CMM November 8).

* for enterprise agreements: Baré and colleagues propose a joint-review, “with a view to simplifying excessive detail would be beneficial and help refocus on important contemporary issues.

It hasn’t happened this time – maybe it will in the next, mid ‘20’s, bargaining round. Or maybe not.