Union working with what it’s got

There is a national hook-up tomorrow for university staff to hear from the National Tertiary Education Union how terrible is the Fair Work Commission decision to cancel the application of Murdoch University’s expired agreement. This, union leaders will explain could encourage universities across the country to use the safety net conditions of the HE industry award as a basis for new agreements.

But while the union thinks this is crook it has not done anything to overturn it – failing to appeal the Murdoch decision in the allowed time, arguing instead that the FWC “rules are broken. Union watchers suggest this is because Commissioner Williams closely argued decision would survive any appeal to the full bench.

Instead the NTEU leadership is working to make it too much trouble for university managements to go the Murdoch way. Last week state and federal officials got involved in negotiations at the University of Sydney, which headed-off a rank and file revolt over accepting a management enterprise proposal.

This sent a strong signal to VCs across the country, play ball with the union and its leaders will work with you. Excluding outliers, such as James Cook U where relations between management and union are toxic, the union hopes for more pay deals around the 2 per cent per annum mark settled on at Sydney but without the slimmed down employment conditions the management IR lobby is pushing for.

This will not stop the NTEU making the case to the vast majority of university staff who are not union members that the Murdoch decision makes the case for their joining.

“The Murdoch decision affects all university staff, so meetings are open to all university staff, regardless of union membership. The reality is though that our best protection against management aggression is to stick together in a strong union. Only the NTEU can bring university staff together in this way,” union assistant national secretary Matthew McGowan said yesterday.