Message from the Provost: Enterprise bargaining

1 March 2013

Members of the NTEU have passed a motion to take industrial action next Thursday, as is their right, claiming that the University will not sign their proposed Heads of Agreement. I believe it is important for staff to understand why we do not think signing this Agreement is in the best interests of the University.

Despite claims that the University is not negotiating in good faith, the fact is that the University has offered a number of modifications to its original proposal to break the impasse. These have not been considered seriously by the NTEU, evident in the fact that their new Heads of Agreement document is exactly the same as their original draft Agreement. The Union has thus demonstrated that it is not prepared to negotiate any change to any of the clauses they originally proposed, including their unaffordable pay claim of seven percent per annum for four years.

We know that Government funding of higher education is not going to increase in the foreseeable future: indeed, recent cuts to higher education were of the order of $1 billion over the next few years, and their immediate impact on the University of Sydney will be a loss of around $60 million in the same time frame.

We believe that staff deserve a pay increase, but, in this context, the critical question is how much can we afford. Our only options for funding a really big increase, especially one of seven percent, would be to increase revenue by enrolling many more students, or to reduce costs radically. Neither of these options is palatable.

The NTEU want us to stop investment in infrastructure but this would only be a short-term solution, and in the long run it would be disastrous.  It would only shift the financial burden to the next generation of academics who will suffer the consequences of our failure to invest now. Staff and students in many parts of the University complain about the state of the facilities. Many of our buildings require major upgrading and repair; staff and students find themselves housed in facilities not fit for purpose; and, in some faculties, continuing external accreditation is conditional on improving our infrastructure. Without good facilities the best researchers will not want to work here, and the most promising students will not enrol. Our reputation would be damaged and our finances would be further impacted.

Other claims by the NTEU misrepresent many of our counter offers, which are meant to give some productivity trade-offs in time and money to fund a pay increase. There is no space in an email to go through these line by line, but again I would ask you to look at the University's proposal on the Enterprise Bargaining website.

The NTEU claims that we are winding back safeguards with respect to managing change.  We are not: the current process involves four major steps which add to the administrative costs of the University. Our proposal is to make this a three-step process, but with an undiminished requirement to consult staff and take account of the outcomes of consultation.

The NTEU claims that we are winding back entitlements to sick leave. What we are trying to do is to bundle different kinds of leave (compassionate, carers, partner's, sick leave) so staff can tap into their leave "bank" in a way that fits their personal circumstances. Our proposal gives staff more flexibility while still allowing special circumstances for seriously ill staff who need to be off work for long periods.

The NTEU claims that we are proposing to remove the 40:40:20 workload principle for academic staff. This is not so. We are happy for it to remain a principle, but we want to allow staff and local managers to discuss variations around this norm to fit their circumstances, as long as these variations remain within the total workload guidelines governing all staff.

Suffice to say there is more than one side to the story. Again, we suggest that staff look at the University's proposal to see for themselves exactly what we are proposing.

Professor Stephen Garton

Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor