Message from the Provost: enterprise bargaining negotiations

22 March 2013

Once again, I am writing in an effort to provide some balance to the information which is being provided through NTEU and CPSU channels about the current enterprise bargaining negotiations.

Despite assertions to the contrary, the University is actively engaged in the bargaining process. We have had 15 meetings with the two staff unions, and offered additional meeting times that the unions have not taken up.

In response to staff feedback, we have made 18 changes in all to our original proposal, including proposing to maintain review committee provisions to protect staff and retaining the NTEU and CPSU as parties under the Agreement. And we've undertaken to again include anti-discrimination and intellectual freedom clauses, even though their inclusion provides no greater protection for staff than was already covered by legislation and policy. All of these changes are explained in a brief table on the Enterprise Bargaining website.

We are bargaining in good faith. In return, we have seen no movement from the unions on any clause; just an insistence that we sign their Heads of Agreement or else suffer further industrial action.

We reject the unions' claim that our position is a fundamental attack on staff conditions. But as I've said before, we do need to achieve some productivity trade-offs if we are to afford a pay rise.

Let's take leave, for example. Many staff say they would benefit from better access to carer's and other kinds of personal leave. The University is keen to provide more flexibility, but we can't afford this while we have a system that allows staff to accumulate, after just a few years, 100 days of sick leave - an amount of leave that very few staff ever need to use, and that is far more than is provided by any other workplace, including other universities, the NSW public service or in schools.

Under our proposal, all staff will receive 20 days personal leave each year. There is no cap on the amount that can be used for carer's leave, and both compassionate and partner leave are more generous. As well, staff can carry over 10 days unused leave from one year to the next without any cap on the amount of leave they can accumulate, and people currently on staff will also be able to carry over 50 days of their existing leave balance to use in future years. We already have provisions to support staff with serious long-term illnesses, and our proposal is, in our view, a sensible compromise that benefits a far greater number of staff.

The unions are also claiming that we are seeking to increase the proportion of people on casual employment. In fact, the opposite is true. We want to reduce casual employment, and have offered to create a number of new early career development and scholarly teaching roles to create new opportunities for early career academics.

The University is anxious to reach an agreement, but we can't give way on many of our proposed changes if we receive nothing in return. The often-made argument that we should cut infrastructure investment to fund a salary increase might play well as rhetoric, but it would be a fundamental betrayal of our obligation to provide decent conditions for staff and students.

The unions claim they are fighting to protect your conditions and the future of the University. What they seem to be doing instead is fighting for your right to teach even bigger classes in rooms with inadequate technology and crumbling infrastructure.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Stephen Garton