Maybe a way to help Western Sydney U casuals

At WSU there’s been talk of creating continuing positions for academic casuals, question is will it be more than talk

WSU observers say the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union is in favour and management does not completely hate the idea of turning a bunch of casual positions into continuing ones.

VC Barney Glover is certainly on the record that while universities are in “very difficult” financial positions, “we do need, both at an institutional level and where possible across the sector, to develop new approaches to reduce high levels of casualisation,” CMM October 1 2021).

There are suggestions that 150 continuing positions for now casuals, working their existing hours at WSU, could cost $7.5m pa or so. The university could fund half with non-staff cuts and the rest could come from a reduced payrise in the next enterprise agreement.  A back of the envelope estimate is shaving a max 0.3 per cent off a pay rise would do it.

Word is the figure has come up in enterprise bargaining, now underway.

It would be nationally significant if union members and management agreed to make it happen.

To date universities around the country have not been impacted by a Fair Work Act requirement that casuals who work a regular pattern of hours can qualify for continuing employment. But last week a Fair Work Commission ruling made the time test potentially more applicable. However, the commission gave an employers another out – that universities would not have to offer continuing jobs if  it required a “significant adjustment” (CMM May 16).

If Western Sydney U finds a way to significantly adjust, it would make it harder for other managements to keep ignoring long-term casuals who would love the conditions that accompany continuing jobs.

It would certainly be harder for Uni Melbourne, where management acknowledged last year its reliance on casual staff is “neither desirable nor sustainable,” (CMM November 15 2021).

So what’s to stop a change at WSU? Inflation might. Last month the federal leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union anticipated inflation increasing by jacking up its all-unis pay rise bid for the current round of bargaining, from 12 per cent to 15 per cent over three years (CMM April 21).

Even if WSU management wants to convert more casuals to continuing positions working existing hours, it might decide it cannot afford to if, it has to meet an increased pay rise.