“Enough with the ideology”: VCs wrong to oppose union job plan

Vice chancellors’ opposition to the union-negotiated accord on job protection is misplaced 


Suggestions the national deal to save staff jobs proposed by the National Tertiary Education Union somehow limits the managerial authority of VCs (or even university senates/councils) and their options for responding to COVID-induced revenue hits make very little sense.

Under current enterprise bargains, management has no rights to reduce fractions, defer pay rises or reduce pay (to name just three of the key measures) as an alternative to job reductions. And where a university wants to not renew fixed term or casual contracts it retains the options it already has under the current EB agreements.

What is really objected to (without explicit amplification) is that new measures must be worked through by joint union/management committees with provision for fast track arbitration where there is a dispute about the severity of revenue loss and the relative proportionality of measures proposed.

This opposition is nothing more than an ideological reflex, given the range and depth of new options available under the proposed deal.

Unless some, to steal Rahm Emmanuel’s phrase, want to make sure restructuring opportunities presented by the crisis are not wasted. Others may simply prefer to rely on job reductions, particularly amongst casuals but won’t say so.

Claims that the deal cuts across the statutory role of councils/senates are wrong. Current EBs limit many elements of the managerial authority of governing bodies and vice chancellors (eg Higher Education Contract of Employment-style limits on the use of contracts and limits on forced redundancies) and the proposed deal is no different in principle or at law.

The union deserves better than this given the deep responsibility it has shown. It is very odd to see some vice chancellors on a unity ticket with the radical left, which opposes the deal.

As for Universities Australia, it plainly should be recommending that universities at least seriously consider it.

The Learned Reader is an independent observer of Australian industrial relations