Thursday, September 24, 2009

One-day strike action affects Qld unis

Industrial action affected three major Brisbane universities last week in an education union’s national campaign to seek better terms and conditions for its members. [Photo: Derek Barry]

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) asked its 3,000 members at the University of Queensland (UQ), Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to join 13 other tertiary institutions across the country in a 24-hour strike last Wednesday.

Union national organiser Michael Evans said agreement was reached with a fourth Queensland university - James Cook University - prior to the action and the NTEU is now “close” to agreement with Griffith University as a result of the strike.

Evans said the union has yet to conclude negotiations with UQ and QUT.

The NTEU is seeking pay rises of between 16 and 18 per cent over three years and also an end to the casualisation of staffing at universities, which Mr Evans says is affecting job security.

One QUT striker who did not wish to be named said the big issue was removing the WorkChoices provisions from the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) and ensuring fair workloads for workers, as well as more employment security.

The EBA expired in 2008 but continues to be in effect while negotiations for a replacement continues.

Evans said the union was looking to regain rights it had lost in the last round of EBA changes under the previous federal government including the right to represent staff in disciplinary actions.

UQ executive director of operations Maurie McNarn told the Courier-Mail last week the impact of the strike would be minimal because the NTEU represented only 5 per cent of the workforce.

Evans acknowledged that Griffith University and QUT also experienced minimal disruption due to the action.

But he also said there was anecdotal evidence that car parks and campuses were emptier than normal and many classes were cancelled.

“Academics rescheduled classes for other days to ensure that students would not be disadvantaged,” he said.

Evans said the one-day strike was valuable publicity for the union campaign and sent a message to the institutions that members were prepared to forego a day’s pay to show how serious they were about the issues involved.

But Australian Higher Education Industrial Association executive director Ian Argall said Evans was “too optimistic” in his assessment of the industrial action.

He said the strike did not make any difference and that negotiations were likely to drag on for many months to come.

“There has been no agreement with any Australian university beyond 2009 except with New England University,” Argall said.

He denied the workplace changes made during the Howard administration had impacted unions’ rights to represent their members.

Argall said the issue for universities was how to organise the performance management and workload of staff.

“Unions have not been pushed out but don’t have an automatic right to be involved” he said.

This story was originally written for the new QUT magazine Sub-Tropic

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