Bargaining at Uni Melbourne: views from the law school

100 plus present and retired staff let the VC know what they really think

Management’s response to union bargaining claims, “reflect a failure to address the crisis of working conditions at the university and its accompanying crisis of trust in senior management,” they write in an open letter to VC Duncan Maskell, Provost Nicola Phillips and DVC Pip Nicholson.

They point to major bargaining claims by the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, including;

* effective workload and working hours clauses: “our workload has become crushing … it is simply not sustainable to continue in this way”

* flexible working arrangements: signatories call on management to rescind rejection of the union call for hybrid work arrangements for professional staff and drop the requirement for academics to have prior authorisation to work from home. “This is a regressive measure that seeks to overturn long-standing established, (productive practices)”

* a fair pay rise:” “the university must do more than investing in buildings, marketing campaigns, consultants, and senior managers”

* a restriction on restructures: the three major programmes since 2014, mean the professional staff base has been gutted … each restructure has tended to make things worse, not better.”

But the one that involves real reputational risk for management is how to handles the union’s call for “80 per cent continuing employment”

“The university has publicly made commitments to overhaul its insecure workforce model,” the letter states. Indeed it has (CMM January 22), and in its submission (230) to a Senate committee inquiry on job security, Uni Melbourne stated. “our goal should not be to eliminate all use of casual or fixed-term contracts, as they are in some instances and for some people entirely appropriate, but rather to make sure that their use is confined to very well-defined circumstances, and that we achieve a significant shift of practice and culture such that our predominant contractual basis for employment rests on continuing and longer fixed-term arrangements.”

Agreeing to 80 per cent continuing employment in a new enterprise agreement would be a stretch for management, but Uni Melbourne’s record of underpaying casual academics (two Federal Court cases, CMM February 13) is such that it must be seen to do something significant.

Pay and insecure employment are related issues and in combination they can create popular perceptions that Uni Melbourne management is not fussed about the conditions of casuals.

To all of which Uni Melbourne responded last night; “”We are working collaboratively and constructively with the unions to reach a new enterprise agreement that is fair to all, recognises the value and contribution that all staff members make to our institution …”

“We are actively engaging with staff as well as with their representatives and inviting feedback on the University’s proposed enterprise agreement provisions.”