Another way towards regular jobs for uni casuals

The Fair Work Commission says Flinders U does not have to offer a continuing job to a long term casual who met the hours of employment test

Toby Priest has worked at Flinders U as a casual academic since 2006, for 11 straight semesters in a “predictable and on-going fashion” which is one thing the Fair Work Act requires for conversion to a continuing job.

When the university knocked him back, the National Tertiary Education Union took Mr Priest’s case to the FWC, presumably on behalf of casuals universities have refused to offer continuing employment. Managements have rejected people, on the grounds that they did not meet the regular hours worked requirement (umpteen CMM stories but see February 7).

Commissioner Platt found that Mr Priest met the employment and regular pattern of hours requirements in the Act. However, he did not qualify for conversion because of the terms of the Flinders U enterprise agreement.  “There does not appear to be a provision … which expressly provides for a part-time engagement performing the work that Mr Priest is presently engaged to perform,” the commissioner concluded.

Further, the specifics of Mr Priest’s work would mean a “significant adjustment” in the terms of employment if converted, which the Act does not allow.

To which the NTEU’s Andrew Miller replies, “the good news that casual academic staff meet the eligibility test for conversion is negated by the bad news that the only mechanism by which the conversion can be enacted is through management benevolence … Despite having worked for 11 years, teaching the same subjects over that period, (Mr Priest) was denied conversion based on management’s extraordinary claim that a shift to continuing employment would require a ‘significant adjustment’ and could not be reasonably accommodated.”

But that is not that. As Dr Miller notes, Mr Priest met the time-worked test for conversion.  This is immensely significant for universities which have rejected casuals for conversion who have similar work records as his.

Which means “the significant adjustment “ issue is where the next argument will be. The timing could not be better given enterprise bargaining is underway or scheduled to start at universities across the country. The union could push for new job classifications, say “teaching assistants” that cover long-term casuals, who teach but do not develop course content, for example.