An offer they couldn’t refuse: UniSydney union members accept the best deal going

Despite a divided leadership, unionists at University of Sydney have backed a call to accept management’s latest pay and conditions offer

What happened: Yesterday’s 300-140 vote followed a split in the campus leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union, with branch president Associate Professor Kurt Iveson and members of the negotiating team calling for a deal while other committee members were urging continuing industrial action for a higher pay offer and improved conditions for casual staff.

The offer was hammered out with the university’s top management last week. While it did not increase the university’s previously stated final pay offer it includes a range of leave and workplace benefits, including involving staff on workload agreements and engaging them in change proposals (CMM September 20). Junior staff will also receive a flat $500 raise with the same amount as a lump-sum for fixed term and casual workers.

According to Dr Iveson, if approved by the university workforce, “this will be the best enterprise agreement in any Australian university.”

While there are still details to address, once done the agreement will be jointly recommended by the NTEU and university in an all-staff vote. The second campus union, the CPSU is believed to be on-side.

Who wins: This is a big win for VC Michael Spence. Once UniSydney union members dig in on an issue they are not given to giving ground, a continuing dispute could have dragged on for months. It is also a win for the NTEU leadership, both at branch and national level. With deals said to be close at Curtin U and Edith Cowan, Sydney will make seven agreements variously approved or getting there. This is momentum the union needed to roll on after the huge defeat in the Fair Work Commission, which agreed to Murdoch U cancelling the old enterprise agreement as a basis for negotiating a new one. It will likely encourage more universities to settle rather than try to slug it out with the union. This means the new pay rise base is around the 2.1 per cent per annum that applies at UniSydney.

Who loses: The same casual staff who always do. As advocates of hanging on for a better deal for them at UniSyd put it the other day; “There are the casuals that have been teaching languages for close to 20 years, with no job security, no paid leave, and far less superannuation than other staff. There are the casuals that were sacked en masse in the student centre without any redundancy package. In every hallway of the university, there are casuals stressed and underpaid, lacking support.”


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