The University of Newcastle, Australia

Enterprise bargaining update

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Get the latest update from the Enterprise Bargaining Team about our new staff enterprise agreements.

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Dear Colleagues,

The University and the bargaining representatives from the NTEU and CPSU met for two afternoons last week to progress discussions and to move towards agreement. It is clearly recognised by the parties that we are now at the end of March, and with a history of pay increases usually occurring in March and October (albeit a larger increase in June last year), staff are likely to be expecting an increase shortly. The University is ready to pay a salary increase upon reaching a new enterprise agreement and the parties have agreed on the importance of reaching a resolution in a timely manner.

Throughout enterprise bargaining, there have been a very large number of claims and suggested changes to existing clauses that have been tabled by the parties, some of which have only recently been presented. In the spirit of moving discussions towards resolution, last week each of the parties clearly articulated which are the critical priority issues for them. All the parties, including the University, have indicated a preparedness to concentrate on the key issues and make concessions in order to reach agreement.

For the University, the critical issues continue to be:

  • Increasing the flexibility in fixed term and contingent employment to accommodate the uncertainty of University funding and to maximise employment in the current environment;
  • Facilitating organisational change sensitively where only one staff member is affected; 
  • Providing flexibility in redeployment support to focus resources and assistance on external job opportunities where this is the most likely option for a staff member; 
  • Ensuring that performance management clauses accommodate the new Performance Review and Development (PRD) framework, and that 
  • Misconduct and Unsatisfactory Performance processes are both fair and appropriately efficient in those cases where they need to be implemented.

The unions have highlighted that their critical issues are:

  • Increased detail in the Agreement regarding staff development including Special Studies Program, PhD transition, professional staff mobility and funding of staff development. The unions have acknowledged that not all these areas may be able to be addressed as part of this Agreement due to the financial implications of the claims, but the unions have indicated that it is critical to them that some increased commitment to staff development is reflected in the Agreement.
  • Introduction of Scholarly Teaching Fellows and Early Career Fellows as new categories of employment to facilitate the transition of casual academic staff into fixed term or ongoing employment.
  • Increased clarity around the parameters influencing academic workload models
  • Increased support for staff experiencing domestic violence
  • Increased rights for unions including participation in induction processes for new staff and increased release of union delegates for meetings and training
  • Addressing specific claims in relation to the Position Descriptors and new allowances/salary points for teachers.

Regrettably, the unions have also indicated that they are not supportive of the first three of the University's priorities.

In response to the unions' priorities, however:

  • The University has already indicated a preparedness to include a new clause in relation to PhD transition support for a fixed number of ongoing academic staff without a PhD across the period of the Agreement. The University is very committed to the development of all staff and already invests a significant amount of money in development programmes, conferences and on-the-job training for staff. The University is currently considering some additional wording for the Agreement to increase the amount of transparency of development planning within each organisational unit to better align organisational needs with individual development aspirations and the PRD process.
  • A working group is in place to consider an appropriate approach to academic workload and a separate meeting on the claims in relation to teachers is being organised.
  • The University is considering the needs of staff around additional support for domestic violence and is considering the union proposal on Scholarly Teaching Fellows.
  • As previously communicated, the University is not supportive of union claims around increased union rights. The University recognises the rights of staff to freedom of association and does not view it is appropriate to assume that unions will be the chosen representative for all staff.

Last week, the parties also spent some constructive time considering the clauses around Indigenous employment. The unions made a number of additional claims which are being made at universities across Australia. Given that this is an area of strength for UON and there is substantial commitment in place for Indigenous employment here, there are a number of additional areas that are being considered by the University for reference within the Agreement.

The parties also spent time last week considering the structure (but not quantum) of potential salary increases. The CPSU led a discussion with the bargaining team regarding the outcomes of a joint working party last year that looked at HEW level structure and had recommended actions to address perceived inequities in the pay structure at the lower levels. The bargaining parties discussed the desirability of addressing these issues, but recognised that all salary increases, including any increases over time to address specific issues, will need to funded within the salary envelope that is available.

As part of this discussion on the potential structure of salary increases, the parties also considered whether flat dollar increases rather than percentage increases, or a combination of both could be considered as the means of providing the salary increases. The University has indicated a willingness to explore all options for structuring increases within the salary envelope that is affordable to the University over the period of the Agreement. The bargaining team discussed the attractiveness and equity of various options. The University also tested the idea of linking salary increases in subsequent years of the Agreement to the Higher Education Grants Index (HEGI) that is used by the government to determine the increase to University funding. This wasn't considered to be a palatable approach by the unions given the uncertainty of the increase and the potential for it to be both lower or higher than an agreed percentage.

Bargaining has not yet canvased the overall quantum of salary increases, due to a desire by the parties to resolve the other critical issues first. The University recognises that in determining an appropriate increase, it is necessary to understand both the needs of staff and the overall context and financial challenges of the sector. The University understands that staff are seeking a fair outcome, which recognises the University's capacity to pay. The University also understands that job security is very important to staff and that this can be best achieved by an enterprise agreement that aligns to the University's financial and strategic requirements.

Over the next few weeks, we expect to continue to move towards agreement as the parties focus on bringing bargaining to a conclusion. All staff are encouraged to keep abreast of progress and to provide feedback to

Best wishes,

Professor Andrew Parfitt

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)

Professor John Germov

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Arts)

Sharon Champness

Director, People and Workforce Strategy

On behalf of the University Enterprise Bargaining Team

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