Australia: Workplace Agreements erode union rights

EI affiliate the NTEU has condemned legislation identified at the 5th Conference on Higher Education and Research in December 2005, and already being implemented to undercut union rights within the higher education sector.

Under Australian labour law salary and conditions can be regulated by a union collective agreement covering all employees regardless of whether or not they are union members. But now the current Australian government is permitting "Australian Workplace Agreements" (AWA) which undercut these union rights. The effects of this legislation will be immediately felt by staff at the University of Ballarat, with its announcement that all new appointees will have no choice but to sign an AWA if they want to be employed. AWAs require faculty to give up whatever tenure-like protections they now have - one crucial feature of the AWAs is that they empower the vice chancellor to dismiss an academic without investigation or review. In exchange for tenure, the individual AWAs include a pay increase, including back-pay to July 2004. President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Sharan Burrow, said that “This is proof of the government’s real agenda – to enable employers to remove the right of workers to collectively bargain, and force them onto AWAs that reduce wages or conditions. This is not about giving employees better choices, it’s about giving them no choice but to accept whatever the employer offers, or not have a job.” Secretary of NTEU’s Victorian Division, Matthew McGowan, agreed saying: “The AWAs will remove important conditions of employment. No negotiation, no choice. This is an Australian university saying ‘Take it or leave it’”. McGowan said that the University’s announcement made a mockery of the government’s rhetoric about providing university staff with ‘genuine choice’ about what type of agreement they are employed under. “With the University of Ballarat being the only public university to force future staff onto AWAs, the management will entrench the University as an employer of last choice in the Higher Education sector.” Trade union solidarity has been shown by EI affiliate the AAUP (USA). In her letter of protest to the University of Ballarat, Jane Buck, president of the AAUP said: “The pressure to sign AWAs is a part, I fear, of the worst feature of labour relations in Australia today. “The University of Ballarat’s move to supplant the collective bargaining process does a disservice to its students and society, as well as its faculty. I urge you to reconsider this course of action.”

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