UNIVERSITY STAFF and university communities suffered badly under the Howard government. The HEWRRs legislation, a precursor to the WorkChoices legislation, tied government funding to the imposition of draconian employment conditions.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has now launched an integrated collective bargaining and public policy campaign to remove the shackles Howard imposed on the tertiary sector.
The campaign involves new 2008-2011 Collective Agreements (logged against all universities), as well as demanding a new Universities’ Act and increased commonwealth funding. The claims include a 27 per cent salary increase (over three years), the restoration of all conditions lost under HEWRRs and WorkChoices, improvements in job security and working conditions with a particular emphasis on research, casual and Indigenous staff.
HEWRRs removed the restrictions won in previous agreements to limit the numbers of casual staff and the right of fixed term staff to apply for permanency after two contracts.
Each university NTEU branch has set up working parties to involve members in the collective bargaining campaign. Sydney University has six meeting regularly, including Family Friendly/Flexible Working Provisions, Casuals and Environmental Sustainability. The Environmental Sustainability working party is looking at ways to support staff using public transport to get to work, and at measures for the university to limit its carbon emissions and develop sustainable work practices.
Predictably university managements are calling the NTEU’s claims “extravagant”. Yet under Howard all universities significantly increased their incomes beyond government funding. The University of Sydney, for example, is a $1.6 billion annual business, making considerable revenue from investments, and from full fee paying and international students. All senior executives at Sydney University, those on more than $240,000, had a 25 per cent salary increase last year.
The campaign hopes to engage students and alumni in the fight for a new Universities’ Act to replace Brendon Nelson’s Higher Education Funding Act 2003. Under Nelson’s Act, compliant university managements imposed Howard’s market driven ideology across universities. The new Act seeks to restore institutional autonomy and academic freedom and establish funding based on quality teaching and research and a commitment to social and community responsibility.
By Michael Thomson