The University of Newcastle, Australia

Enterprise Bargaining Update 15 May 2014

Thursday, 22 May 2014

This week, as we and union colleagues were engaged in enterprise bargaining on 13 and 14 May, the Government handed down the 2014-2015 Federal Budget.

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This Budget introduced some of the most significant changes for higher education seen in several decades, including reduced public funding for universities, measures to increase students' contributions to the cost of their education, fee deregulation and lower indexation to cover our costs year on year.

UON and the sector are working through these major policy changes to understand how they will change the face of Australia's higher education system. In this context, it is difficult to determine what the impact of the Federal Budget will be on the level of salary increases that will be sustainable without a loss of staff positions. It is clear, however, that we will need to continue to build workforce flexibility and capability across the University into the future.

On Friday 9 May the NTEU advised the University that it would be taking industrial action commencing Friday 16 May, and escalating action at the end of the month if significant progress was not made towards an enterprise agreement. In its advice, the NTEU listed a large number of claims it expects the University to accept and indicated that it would not accept those that the University has identified as its priorities.

Our previous update explained that the University had reduced its scope of requests to keep the bargaining process moving forward and has agreed to many of the unions' claims made on behalf of staff. Among the unresolved issues with the NTEU, the most critical relates to the University's ability to operate effectively in a dynamic funding environment and to be able to respond quickly to changing workforce demands. We have requested additional categories for fixed term employment in the agreement, as well as appropriate wording for contingent employment, to provide flexibility that allows us to employ staff on a fixed term or contingent basis where there is no funding available for an ongoing position. The NTEU has indicated it will not support our request. Given that this is an important operational matter for the University, it is possible that agreement will not be reached if the NTEU is unable to accommodate this request.

Progress we have made

During the negotiations this week the bargaining team did make good progress in a number of key areas including Indigenous employment, academic workload, support for staff experiencing domestic violence and the inclusion of additional redeployment support option for staff who are detached. As a result, most aspects of the agreement seem to be close to completion.

Also this week, the issue of the potential removal of automatic "deeming" of annual leave for academic staff was discussed. The University has further explored this matter and, looking at the sector, there is strong evidence that universities who have recently implemented this approach have experienced serious financial impact. As a result UON is unable to agree to this request and in lieu of automatic deeming, the bargaining team is discussing mechanisms that could be put in place to redress the problems that are being experienced by academic staff when they book their leave.

Moving on

The University has always stated that our preference is to reach an agreed position with the unions on enterprise agreements through the bargaining team discussions; however, the University also recognises that the process has taken substantially longer than we had hoped, and that our staff are keen to reach agreement and move on with new pay and conditions.

At this point in the process, given the extent of demands that continue to be made by the NTEU, the University is uncertain as to whether we will be able to reach agreement in a reasonable timeframe. The University is also concerned that a number of the matters that the NTEU is pursuing may not be a priority for the majority of staff.

Under Fair Work legislation, enterprise agreements are made directly with staff who vote to endorse the agreement. The University is now considering the option of taking the revised agreements (including a salary increase) directly to a staff vote, if we cannot reach an agreement with the NTEU and/or the CPSU in the next few weeks. This approach has recently been taken by some universities in Australia during enterprise bargaining.

The University is committed to reaching agreement with union representatives that establishes a sustainable way forward for UON and our staff, and ensures we are competitive into the future. The University certainly respects the right of NTEU members to take industrial action in pursuit of their claims; however we also recognise that the NTEU membership does not represent all of the University workforce, and as we move towards finalising the agreements, the University wants to consider the views of all of its staff. 

So, once again, thank you for your patience. We look forward to providing more details about the new enterprise agreements in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, please continue to provide your valuable views and feedback to

Best regards,

Professor Andrew Parfitt
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)

Professor John Germov
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Arts)

Sharon Champness
Director People and Workforce Strategy

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