Data not judgement in working out workloads  

What could be a precedent setting decision states specifications of the time academic tasks take should be based on hard numbers

The  Fair Work Commission has ruled on a significant dispute over workload models developed for three University of the Sunshine Coast schools, Health and Behavioural Science, Education and Tertiary Access and Law and Society. The enterprise agreement requires models to reflect time needed for teaching-delivery and related work.

Management claimed that it could develop workload models by consulting staff, considering feedback, looking at previous arrangements and leaving it to heads of schools’ judgements. The National Tertiary Education Union argued extensively that new models have to be informed by research and hard data. Both sides stated their approach was in-line with the university’s enterprise agreement.

However, the Fair Work Commission found for the union, that models should use “quantitative standards,” and “the numbers in the model must reflect …the time taken to do the work,” Commissioner Simpson states in the judgement just released.

“The USC method does not involve the step of conducting evidence gathering or research to settle the quantitative standard described (in the enterprise agreement). That is not consistent with what the enterprise agreement requires, which is that the model be based on objective quantitative standards” the judgement adds.

The FWC concludes, union and management must “either conduct research or gather data to develop workload models based on a median or average time taken to do the work in the relevant schools” and they should get on with it.

This looks like a win for the union which has national implications in requiring workload models to specify times per task which are based on what staff actually take to do them. “We think this is an opportunity for university managements across the country to sit down with the NTEU and develop some rigorous and, most importantly, reasonably accurate models to allocate work for academic staff,” the union’s Queensland state secretary Michael McNally said yesterday.

Then again, Uni Sunshine Coast could appeal – if the ruling stands managements across the country are going to have a hard time in enterprise bargaining now underway, or soon to be.