Workers not united

The National Tertiary Education Union federal leadership is talking to a group of influential vice chancellors about an agreed approach to protecting jobs. This is not universally popular with members

Why not? The discussions involve trade-offs on staff conditions in return for management wearing some of the COVID-19 pain and protecting jobs (CMM, April 2 April 14, April 16). But critics argue the NTEU should be campaigning not compromising.  Meetings at the universities of Melbourne and Sydney oppose concessions and a petition is circulating demanding the union push for more public funding and opposing the leadership’s approach.

A hard fight to win: Problem is that this is a call to arms in a fight against the odds. In early April, the Fair Work Commission called on “parties” to vary industrial awards (including HE) to “respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” adding it would “expedite” approval of agreed changes (CMM April 7). And enterprise agreement observers (hey, people have hobbies) point to powers university managements already have to stand-down staff and, ruthlessly relevant to these cruel times, apply to the FWC for variations to an agreement that are not union approved.

But it’s not over yet: Short of industrial law and process being abandoned, university staff will still get a say on proposed changes to enterprise agreements. If the NTEU leadership and VCs do reach a heads of agreement it would likely go to a national vote of NTEU members. If passed by them, university managements, and cooperative campus branches of the union, would then translate the national terms to local circumstances and put a joint proposal to all university staff. Union members who want to hold the line on wages and conditions still have two chances to stop concessions.