La Trobe guts the workload management scheme
The outcome of workload management system review - “The WMS is dead” - is a disaster for ordinary academic staff of the university. NTEU supports the original WMS, which defined a modest set of work categories and typical hours required to carry out the associated tasks.
The incompetence displayed in implementing the IT system along with the cynical way in which some faculties manipulated the WMS workload parameters has been used to deny staff the right to reasonable workload allocations.
This outcome is hardly surprising given management’s attitude and the positions of those who were invited to an interview by the committee. In total there were 56 interviewees 46 of who hold senior management positions with no more than 4 or 5 people - including NTEU representatives - who could be called ordinary academics.
This together with the timing of the review (just before exams) and very short period (11 days) for review submissions ensured that the great majority of opinions reflected a management perspective. It thus appears that the maxim: “never hold enquiry unless you know the outcome beforehand” was in full operation for this review.
To underline the point, NTEU was told in a meeting last week, that Planning and Resources Committee (PRC) had already adopted each and every one of the recommendations attributed to Professor Andrew Lister.
NTEU supports Professor Lister’s diagnosis of many of the implementations problems such as “failings of the IT tool, failure to address cultural change, confusion of purpose, and inadequate governance and oversight of the project.” He rightly points out that this has eroded staff confidence in the system.
However, NTEU has deep concerns about most of the recommendations in the review and these are detailed below. In essence the review recommends that the workloads management system be scrapped and replaced with an inferior system that is more amenable to management manipulation.
This attack on your working conditions must be resisted and NTEU executive is working on this but we will need your help. Your comments and ideas are most welcome and will help us mount a campaign based on the genuine concerns of all staff. Please email your feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Review recommends that the WMS be used solely for allocating and planning workload in an equitable and transparent manner.
The term “solely for allocating and planning” is concerning as it allows management to avoid addressing the problem of excessive workloads. Transparency and equity alone do not guarantee reasonable workloads and without some cap on the number of hours worked, management will continue to allocate workloads based on so called budgetary or operational constraints and simply ignore the effect on actual hours worked.
The Review recommends that the University reaffirm and more uniformly implement workload allocations that reflect individual research performance, with appropriate allowance for staff in transition to becoming established and productive researchers, including early career researchers.
NTEU agrees with a move to uniform implementation of a workloads policy and provided the metric used to measure research performance is fair (unlike the KPI system in FSTE or the punitive scheme in FBEL). We support additional research time for early career academics, for anyone who has a research plan with defined goals, or who has a proven research track record.
The Review recommends that data currently in the WMS be regarded as too unreliable for drawing any systemic inferences about patterns of workload allocation.
Without this data being made available to the NTEU (as was promised by management) we are very suspicious of this recommendation. In the few cases where we have viewed workloads data it showed that most individual workloads were at or above the maximum allocation of 1645 hours per year, even with significantly manipulated time allocations based on Faculty workload models. Our conclusion is therefore that the facts of the data did not accord with management’s command and control approach and they simply decided hide it from staff.
The Review recommends that the metric of workload allocation in the WMS be changed from hours to points.
This is the most insidious recommendation from the review and is clearly designed to maintain the excessive workloads that many academics currently endure. It is self-evident that there must be a relationship between workload allocation and the number of hours worked. If this link is removed, management will have carte-blanche with workloads leaving academic staff at the mercy of their often whimsical supervisors. NTEU demands that the link between workload allocation and actual hours worked be maintained as described in the Collective Agreement. We will never agree that “the notion of allocated hours is irrelevant and counterproductive” as stated in the review. While hours of work are clearly irrelevant to management, they are extremely relevant to academic staff and we find this attitude insulting and typical of the miserly and dismissive attitude that current management takes towards employee relations.
The Review recommends that the WMS adopt a broad brush approach to categories of activity.
The “broad brush” approach is not sufficient to guarantee workload equity and fairness. It lacks objectivity and is subject to interpretation by supervisors who are sometimes capricious and often pressured by senior management to achieve operational or budgetary goals. NTEU demands that the categories of work in the current WMS be maintained. We agree that these categories need refinement to accommodate situations that were not and could not be anticipated by the design team but these are minor adjustments, which should only be implemented at academic unit level. This and the previous recommendation amounts to management throwing the baby out with the bath water and we wonder if this was not the underlying purpose of the review.
The Review recommends that workload allocations be available to all academic staff within each academic unit.
NTEU agrees with this recommendation provided it means that all academic staff in a given department can compare their workload with all other academic workloads in that department, and most importantly, participate in collegial discussions about how the work will be shared around. This goal could be most easily achieved with a simple spreadsheet.
We point, once again, that the La Trobe University Collective Agreement 2009, states at sub-clause 48.10: “Each academic unit will develop and maintain (or review, as appropriate) a Workload Model which, through a collegial process, will provide for the equitable, transparent and manageable allocation of workload with respect to teaching and other activities within the academic unit.”
The Review recommends that overall carriage and responsibility for the WMS project be located at DVC level.
NTEU agrees with this recommendation. We also note that had carriage of the WMS been given to someone at this level on the resignation of the former DVC academic, the time, effort and money wasted may have been avoided.
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