The current Enterprise Agreement (EA) negotiation between local members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and management staff at the University of New England (UNE) is taking on a combative tone.
On June 1, UNE management announced an administrative salary increase of 1.5 per cent for staff to be paid in July 2018.
The NTEU said UNE management claimed this would ‘ensure staff are not disadvantaged financially as we take time to arrive at a simple, fair and modern EA for professional and academic staff.’
Last week Dr Kelvin McQueen, NTEU Vice-President (Academic staff) at UNE, said the increase is not enough.
“The NTEU log of claims, served on management in July 2017, sought a 5 per cent annual improvement to salaries,” he said.
“Management’s administrative payment announced on Friday is 20 per cent less than the rate of inflation and 35 per cent less than average public sector pay increases. This now puts staff behind the sector and makes reaching an EA even harder.”
The NTEU’s claims seek to improve salaries and conditions to make UNE competitive in attracting and retaining the best staff insists Dr McQueen.
“The NTEU maintains that to progress towards a new agreement, UNE management must increase the pace of bargaining by dropping claims around: workplace change; redundancy review; and misconduct and unsatisfactory performance procedures that diminish current job protections,” he said.
Dr McQueen said across the tertiary education sector currently, for those universities that have completed their bargaining (and he admits that is not many) the average pay increase per annum is about 2.9 per cent per annum.
“Unfortunately our enterprise bargaining isn't going particularly well in so far as we’re getting no movement from management on our proposed clauses,” he said.
This refusal to deal with our clauses in any consistent or considered way, means that industrial action may have to escalateDr McQueen
“Management haven’t put a clause yet on academic workloads and misconduct and unsatisfactory performance and limitations around workload, which our members see as important protections in the workplace.
“The NTEU insists that management commences substantive negotiations on our claims that have been on the table for nearly a year, including improved superannuation, access to secure work for casual and fixed-term employees, improving workloads/trimester regulation, providing professional staff with redundancy review rights, and, of course, a salary increase that isn’t laughable.”
Dr McQueen said he was also concerned management had put new clauses on the table just three years after the previous round of bargaining.
“The existing clauses had previously been tweaked and sometimes substantially rewritten over several rounds,” he said .
“It’s just expected that those clauses would be used as a launching pad for any changes but management have put new clauses on the table that bear very little resemblance to the current clauses which has made bargaining very difficult. We have asked management many times what is wrong with the current clause but they have not responded to date.”
For the last month, NTEU members at the UNE have been taking part in minor industrial action according to Dr McQueen.
“We’re asking staff to work their ordinary hours of work and no more; not to attend meetings called by management; and not to respond to requests from management including the uploading of data,” he said.
“We’re saying look who really does the work around here, without staff attending meetings they’re going to find it rather hard to run the place.”
Dr McQueen also said an escalation of industrial action could be on the cards.
“As you can imagine the 1.5 per cent pay rise announced in that atmosphere, where we’re getting no movement and this refusal to deal with our clauses in any consistent or considered way, means that industrial action may have to escalate,” he said.
“We don’t want to see this happen but we’re getting nothing from management, and no acknowledgement about the hard work our staff do and certain entitlements certainly need to be improved or just maintained.”
If industrial action does escalate Dr McQueen said it was for members to decide what form it would take.
UNE Chief Operating Officer Professor Peter Creamer said based on progress to date; it will potentially take some time to work through the remaining issues.
“Any new EA needs to be right both for the University and for our staff,” he said.
“So that staff are not disadvantaged while discussions continue the University has advised staff that they will receive a 1.5 per cent salary increase in July. This increase is consistent with outcomes in enterprise bargaining across the sector with some universities paying an average annual increase below 1.5 per cent.”
Professor Creamer said over the last five years the UNE had paid staff salary increases of 15 per cent in comparison to broader public sector increases of 11.9 per cent (ABS data).
“It is critical that UNE delivers fair and sustainable salary increases in a time when government funding is retracting,” he said.
“The changes that UNE is seeking in this round of bargaining are an attempt to modernise the existing agreements to align with community standards and outcomes that are being achieved at other universities. UNE is committed to continue negotiations at this time but must have enterprise agreements that support the future viability of UNE.”
Representatives from the NTEU and UNE management meet fortnightly and the next round of enterprise bargaining will take place on June 18 and 19.