Enterprise agreement signed off at Murdoch U but it was a long, and painful time, coming

What’s happened: The Fair Work Commission has signed off on the Murdoch University enterprise agreement, ending a long and bitter blue in university bargaining. And the university has dropped its Federal Court action, commenced during bargaining against individual union officials, National Tertiary Education Union state secretary Gabe Gooding and industrial officer Alex Cousner. A university representative tells CMM, “Murdoch University and the NTEU have reached agreement to discontinue the proceedings in the Federal Court between the parties. This decision reflects the current goodwill between Murdoch and the NTEU during successful negotiations for a new enterprise agreement.”
Bargaining that started badly: The university went hard from the start, arguing that it needed a stripped-down agreement to make possible much-needed savings. The NTEU  said it understood money was tight (CMM February 14 2017)and was happy to talk but declined to move on what it saw as core conditions.
And got worse: What made the drawn-out dispute so tough was the way the university tried to blast the union out of its entrenched positions. Murdoch U management piled on the pressure by winning Fair Work Commission permission to cancel pay and conditions under the expired enterprise agreement and return staff to the lower paying industry award, if there was no new agreement. And the university launched legal action against union officials, claiming, they were misrepresenting MU positions on the dispute and seeking to coerce it through public meetings, email and social media. This escalated the argument and left the union with a choice between surrendering or digging-in deeper. The union replaced shovel with an excavator. The 12 month plus dispute only started to end, when new VC Eeva Leinonen made it clear at the end of last year she wanted a deal and management amended its positions on key issues covered by discipline processes, academic workloads and conditions and fixed term contracts.
But was the dispute worth it?: Friends of the university say Murdoch U extracted valuable concessions that are now in the new agreement. But if so the university has paid a high price. The threat to cut pay if no agreement was reached did not go down well with many staff and launching legal action against union officials – not the NTEU, individuals who would have to defend themselves in court – did not impress all members of the Murdoch U community.


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