Split Opinions

13 July 2017

Students and staff may be disadvantaged by new employment contracts proposed by the University in its collective bargaining agreement, currently being negotiated with the National Teaching and Education Union (NTEU).

For students, the most worrying potential changes are those to casual employee rights. Sara Brocklesby, secretary of the Melbourne University branch of the NTEU, said a ‘significant’ proportion of casual employees are students in their own rights – graduate students employed as tutors, research assistants and many other positions.

Documents produced by the University in regards to these negotiations claim that the impact will be small for these employees.

“There is no reduction to the casual hourly rates of pay contemplated in the University’s draft agreements,” the document reads. However the NTEU is currently working to improve job security for casual workers.

“We believe there are a number of employees who have spent too long on casual contracts, creating unnecessary uncertainty. We have proposed a new employment ‘periodic’ category and are committed to reviewing existing casual engagement to identify opportunity to transition casuals to ongoing or fixed term periodic employment,” Brocklesby said.

According to Brocklesby, these contract agreements have already impacted students.

“When you see particular types of work within the University devalued, staff morale is diminished. It is very hard for professional staff to deliver the services that students need to do well at uni.”

“Some staff here are too stressed [by the negotiations] to give the help to students that they want to give,” Brocklesby said.

The University’s proposal also separates the contracts into two separate agreements: one for academic staff, and one for support and administrative staff. The University believes that this separation will enable more efficient and relevant agreements. An internally circulated document from the University addresses this point.

“We believe there are sufficient differences between the academic and professional employees, to warrant separate agreements. Separate streams of bargaining will be more efficient and better address the specific terms and conditions of the respective occupations.”

Brocklesby says split agreements in other Universities have seen a range of issues arise.

“We find that when the agreement is split, professional staff can deteriorate. You also have situations where pay rises are set at different percentages.”

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