UniNewcastle’s high-risk enterprise bargaining move

After long lamenting the toughness of times at the University of Newcastle, management there has sent staff an enterprise bargaining pay offer, which would set the standard for regional unis in NSW. But leaders of the campus branches of the National Tertiary Education Union and the Community and Public Sector Union aren’t impressed.

The university plan is said to offer a better deal than other NSW regional universities, 1.4 per cent per annum over three years plus two $500 increases to base pay at Southern Cross U, 5.3 per cent all up and 6.3 per cent plus a $1000 increase to base to cover five years, translating to 7.5 per cent at Charles Sturt U.

The UniNewcastle unions are not happy with management telling staff that this is a final offer and contingent on adoption of new working conditions. Union leaders are said to consider management’s message to all staff a breach of bargaining, given questions of conditions are still outstanding. However, they are likely to commit to continue talking.

Speculation is Vice Chancellor Caroline McMillen has decided to get a deal done before her successor Alex Zelinsky arrives in November. This management move certainly sets the scene for a standoff which could deliver a quick result. Unless it doesn’t. Unions and university either reach a deal, or UniNwcastle puts the offer to a staff vote, without union support.

The latter is high-risk for both sides. If staff support a university-offer union bargaining power is reduced for years to come. If staff vote it down management will have to keep talking to the unions. A pay offer without union support worked for VC Andrew Vann at Charles Sturt U a few years back but one failed last September at James Cook U.

NTEU members will certainly have plenty to discuss at Wednesday’s half-day stop work.


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