Uni Newcastle management sent staff on leave: it shouldn’t have

As the COVID-19 crisis kicked in Uni Newcastle gave staff three paid days off after Easter but also directed them to take five days of their annual leave the week after, to “pause, rest and restore,” (CMM April 1)

This did not have the intended effect on National Tertiary Education Union officials who were mightily exercised by what they considered an imposition on staff, especially those whose leave balance went negative, they also said the university’s enterprise agreement forbade it.

While both sides later agreed that the university did not have the authority to send academics on leave, management and union differed on professional staff and teachers, (mainly ESL). And so, the matter ended up in the Fair Work Commission, long after the leave was taken.

Deputy President Booth  has now found that while the professional staff agreement allowed the university to send people on leave the clauses involved are “unreasonable in that they contain no obligation upon the university to engage with the individual employee so that their particular needs can be considered.” As such the clauses are contrary to the Fair Work Act and “have no effect”.

And so, staff effected get their five days leave re-credited.

It was, the deputy president concludes, all a result of rushed and siloed decision making by the university. “Some of the matters that would usually be had regard to when making a decision like this were missed. Unfortunately, the old saying ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’ appears apt,” Deputy President Booth concludes.

Good-o, but, how did the clauses get in the agreement in the first place?