As the holiday wind down began last December, management at Murdoch University in Western Australia delivered a nasty Christmas surprise that could have drastic implications for university workers across the country. They applied to terminate their agreement (EBA) with the staff union, the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) in the Fair Work Commission.
If the application is successful, workers will be forced onto award conditions, meaning:
- A 25 to 39 per cent wage cut;
- Cutting redundancy entitlements by one third for academics and 80 per cent for professional staff;
- Removing regulations on workloads (the regulation of maximum loads for teaching, research, and administration for permanent academic staff);
- Ending rights to academic and intellectual freedom;
- Eliminating employer provided paid parental leave.
- Casual workers could lose their rights to facilities, library cards, email accounts, internet access, and payment for induction sessions.
Murdoch made their latest move after dragging out negotiations for a new agreement over seven months and 25 meetings. They were offering an insulting 3 per cent pay rise contingent on cuts to conditions. When the union went on a half-day strike on 7 December, management threatened to discipline workers if they sent an out-of-office reply about the strike, and docked a full day’s pay.
On top of this, Murdoch are suing two union organisers on the basis of statements they have made in emails about the university’s bargaining strategy.
At the moment, the union has focused on solidarity messages and photos, emails to the Vice-Chancellor, raising funds, and pushing recruitment. A lunch time rally on 15 December at Murdoch drew over 100 workers. Gabe Gooding, the NTEU WA secretary, gave a message to management at rally, saying, “You are taking on the union movement … we are all in this fight.” This statement must be turned into reality. The NTEU across the country can meet management’s dramatic attack at Murdoch with an equivalent escalation.
The news comes as union members prepare for the EBA negotiations at most universities across the country this year. What happens at Murdoch will be have flow on effects everywhere—if management’s bold attack is successful, other universities may adopt the same hardline tactics. With many universities entering bargaining, coordinated national action is both possible and necessary.
By Amy Thomas