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University of Melbourne staff to vote on proposed enterprise agreement tomorrow

University of Melbourne staff are set to vote on a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) after negotiations between the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Branch Committee and University management reached a breakthrough.

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University of Melbourne staff are set to vote on a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) after negotiations between the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Branch Committee and University management reached a breakthrough.

The proposal, put forward by University senior management, will go to a ballot of NTEU members for approval this Thursday, 8 February.

It comes after last year’s unprecedented industrial action, in which hundreds of University staff staged week-long strikes in August and October to protest for better employment conditions.

Students enrolled at the campus last year will recall two weeks of disrupted learning across Semester 2, with many joining the union's protests in solidarity.

The new EBA proposed by the University’s senior management is the first of three since industrial action commenced last year that the union could meaningfully recommend to its members, according to NTEU UniMelb Branch President David Gonzalez.

The EBA includes concessions to key demands of the NTEU that Gonzalez claims will provide increased job security for University staff.

Notably, the proposal outlines the University’s commitment to a core workforce baseline of 75% of staff being employed on an ongoing basis or fixed term contract of over eighteen months.

Job security has been at the centre of the NTEU’s campaign during their industrial dispute with the University, with an 80% secure work target a major plank in last year’s campaign.

A new pay agreement will see staff salaries increase by a total of 8.5% across the next two years, keeping University of Melbourne staff “among the highest paid workers in the sector across the country”.

New amendments to the parental leave policy will also entitle staff to 36 weeks of parental leave when having a child, a condition which previously took five years of employment to access.

Other concessions include a 29% increase in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment target, a minimum research allocation for part-time academic staff, 30 days of paid gender affirmation leave for all staff including casuals, and a right to disconnect from emails and messaging outside of work hours.

Gonzalez believes the proposed EBA provides the “building blocks” for more progress in future agreements, but says that it falls short on addressing the NTEU’s demands for a pay rate that matches inflation, flexible work-from-home arrangements and measures to balance staff workloads.

“There’s a whole host of pieces [to the agreement] that help get us to a better position for future rounds of bargaining… Once those conditions are there, we can fight for the percentages to be higher,” says Gonzalez.

“Absolutely, there are people who are going to vote no on the proposal because they think that management didn’t come to the table far enough.”

“But I think they’re a very small minority compared to people who understand the strategy we’re trying to build within our branch and the significant wins we will no doubt have in the future.”

“Overall, I think people are optimistic we’re on the right path.”

One NTEU UniMelb Branch Committee member who is not so optimistic is University Deputy Archivist, Katie Wood.

Since joining the University in 2008, Wood says she has seen a progressive deterioration in working conditions for staff. 

Four major restructures have occurred during that time, including the controversial Business Improvement Program in 2015, which saw 500 University employees sacked and many having to reapply for the same roles at a lower pay grade.

According to Wood, last year’s industrial action was a product of years of growing anger and distrust against a university that is failing to support its staff and consequently its students.

“Everyone that works here says that they love the University as an institution and the fact that we can be engaged in teaching so many students, but when that sense of care is not reflected in the reality, it only makes people angrier.”

Wood says that enabling staff to deliver more effective student support through measures that guarantee employment security was central to last year's industrial action but that the latest EBA proposal fails to address those demands.

A priority claim from the union which safeguarded staff from restructures and forced redundancies over the two-year life of the agreement was rejected by the University.

So too was a pay rise that matched inflation. Wood claims that the proposed agreement would actually see wages fall in real terms when compared to the previous EBA.

Staff were also denied the Melbourne Cup and Labour Day public holidays, with the University proposing staff use their annual leave days instead.

“We went out wanting to seriously challenge the neoliberal management strategy of this University which has had such a negative impact on staff for the last decade and members engaged in the campaign on that basis Now, we’re settling for something [an EBA proposal] that doesn’t in anyway challenge that,” says Wood.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, Wood expects more protests until the University improves its approach to employee welfare. 

“Until the University changes the way that it operates, there will always be staff who are willing to fight it.”

 

Photography credit to Max Dowell.

 
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