How Uni Melbourne intends to reduce reliance on casual staff

Last year management committed to “overhauling its employment model” – so how’s that going in enterprise bargaining?

The university’s proposal for a new agreement addresses payment of casual academics – getting this right has been a problem at the university in recent years (umpteen CMM stories, for example, September 10 2022)

It also includes a provision, “where the university intends to offer further employment to a casual employee” it will be for a minimum 0.4 FTE.

Which is way short of the National Tertiary Education Union demand for 80 per cent continuing employment at the university, and the precedent set by Western Sydney U and Australian Catholic U, which made specific numbers of new continuing positions for academic casuals part of their new enterprise agreements, (CMM July 26, 27 and August 19 2022).

The WSU/ACU lead could be a way for Uni Melbourne, to act on its acknowledgement that its reliance on casuals is “neither desirable, nor sustainable,” (CMM November 15 2021). Last June Provost Nicola Phillips stated the university would “overhaul its employment model”, (CMM June 10).

But for now Uni Melbourne tells CMM, “we have a shared interest with the union to address the reliance on casual and short duration fixed-term employment and note that developing a genuine and enduring solution is a complex matter.

“We look forward to continuing Union and staff bargaining discussions on practical and sustainable proposals to support and enable the work underway to reframe the University’s workforce towards greater continuing employment,” the university’s statement adds.

Which may mean there is enterprise bargaining on details for casual conversion to come – perhaps linked to pay, which is yet to be negotiated. The WSU agreement included a marginal pay rise reduction as part of the casual conversion.

Or maybe it doesn’t.

Campus observers suggest management has no appetite for anything that reduces their authority to decide how many new continuing jobs are created and when.

Which could be courage of the Sir Humphrey. For two years universities with high proportions of casual staff have copped criticism in parliaments and media for relying on staff who languish for years in insecure employment. Critics could well turn to Uni Melbourne’s submission to last year’s Senate Select Committee on Job Security,

“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.”