It comes down to who can count

James Cook U management is putting its wage offer to a staff vote, without the support of the campus National Tertiary Education Union and at the University of Sydney VC Michael Spence is asking staff to vote on whether they want to decide on his pay proposal, even though the union wants more negotiations.

Excluding the union from the process is a high-risk strategy rarely tried by cautious VCs. But it can work, as a learned reader reminds.

In September 2013 Charles Sturt U put an offer direct to staff, which was accepted, despite the opposition of the NTEU (the CPSU backed the deal). This gave the comrades conniptions and when  University of Canberra VC Stephen Parker threatened to bring on a vote negotiations successfully resumed.

In 2014 Swinburne U also won a staff vote, overturned by the Fair Work Commission on questions about the accuracy of the voting roll. But the point was made and union and management agreed on a joint proposal to staff.

And last year Western Sydney U said it would bring on a vote at WSU College, which was enough to bring the union back to the table.

The union hates to lose, another learned reader remarks. But if either university loses the votes now on the NTEU will win big, really big. Question is which side is most in touch with the mood of staff.