Victoria U staff reject management offer on pay and conditions

Staff at Victoria University have decisively rejected management’s proposed enterprise agreement.

What happened: With 54 per cent of all staff voting, just 23 per cent supported the university offer, which was vigorously opposed by the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. VU took the relatively unusual step of putting an offer to staff which did not have union support, after protracted talks were stalled and looked likely to remain so.

In a staff message yesterday PVC Lorraine Ling said “while the result was not what we had hoped, we see this as an important first step towards achieving an outcome that will secure our future.”

Why: The campus branch of the NTEU has no doubt why management went down. “Staff rejected completely management’s attempts to remove the union entirely from the enterprise bargaining agreement and take important staff rights away, such as the right to independent review by a tripartite committee before dismissal, branch president Paul Adams says.

Management’s message to staff in the ballot was that the proposed enterprise agreement “provides many entitlements that are above sector standards and in some cases, are among the best in the sector.” While the union argued the proposed pay rise, four annual pay increases, from 1.4 per cent this year to 2 per cent in 2021 was inadequate, the big issues appear to have been staff disquiet at management’s research reorganisation, changes to conditions for some teaching staff and a reduction in processes covering discipline and disputes and position reclassification. (CMM September 10)

What it means: This is a big loss for VU management, which is attempting to transform its teaching structure and financial base. It is a loss which could lead management considering the Murdoch U strategy.  Last year the WA university won Fair Work Commission approval to place staff on wages and conditions in the higher education industrial award, if a new agreement was not reached once the old expired. This was unpopular with Murdoch staff, what with the award conditions being worse than those in the expired enterprise agreement but it is an option Victoria U could consider. Problem is that VC Peter Dawkins effectively ruled it out last year, telling staff, “as is standard practice, the existing agreement will continue to operate after its expiry date, until it is replaced by a new agreement,” (CMM October 31 2017).

What happens next: While the university now says, it will survey staff for “feedback” on the offer, the NTEU’s Paul Adams calls on management, to “listen to the collective voice of staff and sit down with the Union and negotiate a decent agreement.”

However, Andrew Dempster from Proofpoint Advisory says VU needs to change;

“The university wasn’t successful in this ballot, so they now have three main options.

The first would be to make major concessions to the NTEU, which has been advocating to retain many of the terms and conditions from the 2013 agreement. This seems unlikely given the scale of change that the university needs to sustain its new teaching model.

The second would be to apply to the Fair Work Commission for termination of the old agreement on the basis that it’s no longer suitable to support VU’s new model.

The third would be to settle into a longer bargaining campaign and to continue to make the case for change. If agreement can’t be reached with the NTEU, the university could hold another ballot in a few months’ time and test staff sentiment again.

Of all the Australian universities, VU has been among the most courageous in creating a new approach to undergraduate education centred around block teaching and smaller class sizes. It’s not surprising that they need major changes to their 2013 enterprise agreement to make this work.”


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