The Committee for Public Education (CFPE), the grassroots network for educators launched by the Socialist Equality Party, is urging educators and professional staff at Western Sydney University College to vote no in this week’s official ballot on a wage cuts and a pro-restructuring company agreement with management by the National Union for Higher Education (NTEU).
This agreement was only approved by 11 members of the NTEU during a little-attended union meeting at the end of September. This is one of the most egregious efforts by the NTEU and all trade union apparatuses to push through the demands of the Albanian Labor government for at least two more years of real wage cuts, as well as further cuts in social spending, while offering tax cuts to the wealthy. and increased military spending for participation in US-led wars.
A vote against this retrograde deal proposal will be a blow to the NTEU’s drive to inflict similar pay cuts on Western Sydney University (WSU) itself and across the higher education sector, as well as to the wider attempts of union bureaucracies to impose Labour’s pro-business agenda.
Significantly, the WSU College all-worker ballot is being organized by management and the NTEU this Wednesday and Thursday in the shadow of the Labor government’s first budget on Tuesday.
This budget will be the first part of Labour’s plans, dictated by the financial markets, to make the working class pay for the fiscal debt, the global economic crisis and the runaway inflation produced by the massive donations to money markets and big business. during the ongoing COVID -19, followed by the US launched war against Russia in Ukraine.
As one CFPE sympathizer pointed out at the small, wacky, undemocratic union meeting in late September, the low turnout revealed the level of disillusionment, with workers rightly seeing the NTEU as an obstacle to defending jobs and conditions. .
As she explained, the proposed pact between the WSU College and the NTEU is regressive on all fronts. For starters, after six years of below-inflation wage increases since the last such company-wide agreement was struck in 2016, the proposed increases are less than half the expected official inflation rate of 7.75% by the end of the year, or only 2% this year. year, 3% in 2023 and 3.25% in 2024.
Additionally, the deal would pave the way for further corporate restructuring of the WSU feeder college at the expense of jobs and conditions. At the heart of the proposal is Part K on ‘change management’, specifically ‘major changes in the composition, operation or size of the College’s workforce’.
The NTEU agrees to help the College “remain competitive in the marketplace and continue to be successful”, which means “it may need to modify its structure, operations and priorities to meet the needs of the ‘company “.
Clause 46.15 allows management not only to lay off workers, but also to cut jobs through “natural attrition” – i.e. non-replacement of staff – as well as so-called “voluntary leave”. “without pay, taking long-term leave and converting to reduced employment.
Similarly, the proposals for personal leave are aggressive. Staff day absences on more than five occasions without proof of illness or injury would require the employee to provide proof of personal leave for the following year for day absences. There are many other such clauses, including dismissal due to illness.
Claims by management and the NTEU that casual workers have the opportunity to transition into secure employment are a fraud. According to the misleading “summary” of the management agreement: “The College will fill a minimum of 18 FTE positions through conversions over the term of the agreement.
That would be a drop in the ocean for WSU College’s workforce of hundreds, many of whom were employed on a casual basis. In reality, however, the informal conversion proposals are so vague that they make no sense. Clause 15.3(a) states that casuals have the “right to seek conversion to continuous or fixed-term employment”. This would leave management with the power to choose who would be appointed.
Additionally, recent conversions to the College consist of permanent casual employees, but for as few as two days a week. Many academics employed on this basis continue to work as casuals at other institutions in order to make ends meet.
Compulsory annual leave, which currently applies to teaching staff, would also apply to professional staff, dictating when they can take leave. When a professional staff member objected at the September meeting, the NTEU delegate said the union saw it as a necessary compromise.
Another proposal is that annual leave approvals for the month of January be “limited and subject to College operational requirements, except in exceptional circumstances”. This would particularly disadvantage those with school-aged children, who have school holidays in January.
Similarly, “remote work arrangements” allowing employees to apply to work from home for up to two days a week amid the ongoing pandemic would depend “on operational requirements”.
In 2021, WSU College workers voted overwhelmingly, at 78%, against a non-union deal that demanded an obvious real pay cut — an increase of just 1.25% per year over three years — and the under -continuous systemic remuneration of occasional educators. But this NTEU deal is no better.
The no vote on this NTEU betrayal must be followed by College workers who join with their WSU colleagues to defeat the union’s draft agreement with WSU as well.
Far from being a “historic victory”, as the NTEU has repeatedly proclaimed, the agreement with the WSU offers pay increases of just 3.5% per year on average. This is a substantial reduction in real wages, in line with the demands of the Reserve Bank and the Federal Labor Government.
The WSU deal isn’t a win for casuals either. It would simply prioritize casual academics to apply for perhaps 150 full-time jobs over three years, allowing management to decide who is selected. The deal also scraps casuals’ demands for a 17% superannuation and paid sick leave.
These NTEU betrayals are part of the union’s long and intensified pro-management record. When the COVID pandemic emerged in early 2020, the NTEU, without consulting its members, proposed pay cuts of up to 15% and around 18,000 job cuts.
Despite widespread member revolt against this brazen betrayal, the NTEU continued to impose pay and job cuts at individual universities, including WSU, while opposing a unified fight to defend jobs, wages and conditions. At WSU, the 400 job and wage cuts led to a record $143 million surplus in 2021.
Rejecting the NTEU’s latest betrayals at WSU would be a crucial first step in developing a unified workers’ struggle against the pay cuts, intolerable workloads and company-led restructuring now being deepened by the Labor government.
To organize this counter-offensive, the CFPE calls for the formation of rank-and-file committees, independent of the unions. To advance this fight, the CFPE and the Health Workers Rank-and-File Committee (HWRFC) have convened a joint online town hall meeting on Sunday, November 20 at 3 p.m. (AEDT).
Titled “Unite Educators and Health Workers: Oppose the End of COVID Protective Measures!” Life before profit!” the meeting will present a political perspective, including the creation of rank-and-file committees, to unite health workers, teachers and other sections of workers in the fight for decent wages, working conditions and the elimination of COVID-19. Register now: https://bit.ly/3CRCuOh