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The Truth About Negotiations at Swinburne

Posted 27 May 2013 by Josh Cullinan (Swinburne University of Technology)

We have tried to deal with most of the issues raised by the VC in her email on 24th May below. We expose lies, explain the truth and pose serious questions. Members are encouraged to share these truths with colleagues and direct concerned students to our dedicated webpage here. Whilst this article is quite long, we do save the best for last!


We know members can read through the language used by the Vice Chancellor, so we won’t focus on that here. Suffice to say, NTEU is its members and we will be here long after the Vice Chancellor has moved on.

A number of members may not be aware that the first response of the Vice Chancellor to students was not an email she sent on Wednesday but a Facebook question posed to incite anger amongst students just prior to the email.

When we read questions like these, posted to students, we wonder if the University is serious about improving its research profile. What would the Ethics Committee have to say?!

At the same time that we implement exemptions to the results ban to exempt students graduating or suffering hardship, the Vice Chancellor acts to incite anger and upset? And directs it at staff? To take a phrase from students, WTF?

We wrote to the Vice Chancellor a week before the bans. We spoke about the potential of results bans with management in February, March and April. Other University management’s have reported the employer association which advises Swinburne, AHEIA, wrote to Swinburne senior management about this issue last year. This isn’t new.

Just like the campus closures last year, the Vice Chancellor decided to commit a shocking act of self harm on Swinburne last week. Pitching students against staff. It’s not good enough and must stop.

Plucking Numbers Out of the Air

Senior Management has plucked some numbers out of the air in costing our claims and has refused to provide any information about the costing. We have been told that providing 3 days special additional leave for the Christmas closedown will cost $2 Million – clearly their maths is bunkum! Remarkably, the University has refused to provide information we requested in November last year which would allow us to better understand the cost impact of our claims. Things like staff numbers, financial projections, wage costs and the like.

Swinburne NTEU Too Strong For Us

The ‘woe is us’ lament from the Vice Chancellor has been heard often from HR. We appreciate the reiteration of the great value NTEU members receive from their strong union at Swinburne. A strength which has seen us double our membership since last time we negotiated an Agreement, a renewed Branch leadership with half of our Branch Committee now women and half General Staff. We capped off a great 2012 by winning the ACTU Best Workplace Campaign Award.

However, we do need to correct some glaring omissions in the Vice Chancellors statement. The whole point of a dispute settling procedure is to avoid having adverse findings against parties. We have worked hard to resolve disputes. And have we just!

2010: Sessionals dispute in FICT sees $250 000 annual underpayments fixed and $40 000 in backpay for sessional members

2011: Largest classification dispute in our history launched.

2011: Massive workloads dispute sees DVC (A) commit to negotiating a new Academic Workload Model framework for the University.

2011: NTEU Fixed Term Contracts Campaign launched and 95% of members involved are converted to ongoing employment. Literally more than 50 staff won secure work because NTEU took a stand - only because NTEU took a stand.

2012: Fed up with exploitation of sessional staff, NTEU launched a campaign to have sessionals paid on time. After refusing to talk about the issue the VC finally acknowledged the problem after the community rallied behind the sessional survival stall to make hampers for staff paid so late they cannot afford household goods. Our campaign meant sessionals were paid on time, for the first time, in August 2012. Not the good graces of the Vice Chancellor. Our dispute and our campaign. Members standing together, united for fairness. Every NTEU member is right to be proud.

2012: We took the sessionals campaign further, demanding that compulsory training be paid. As we raised the dispute, Faculties started paying sessionals for this, for the first time.

2012: The massive classification campaign fought all the way to the Tribunal was resolved by conciliation. No adverse finding. But, dear Vice Chancellor, please identify what NTEU did not win? You even agreed to backpay our members to 2011! Our campaign has seen 200 classification reviews which would never had been considered without the NTEU. We have won over 50 classification increases for staff. 50 staff paid for the work they do because of the NTEU and despite every effort and intervention of Senior Management.

Fought Disputes at Every Turn

At every turn, Senior Management fought every one of these disputes. It was only under threat of court action or Tribunal intervention did they shift.

Then, in 2012, Senior Management changed their approach. They decided talking and resolving disputes was not working. So they stopped.

Almost every dispute since May 2012 has been responded to by Senior Management saying

                We don’t recognise a dispute… We will not discuss the dispute (that doesn’t exist)…

Heads in the sand seemed to be the new industrial strategy at Swinburne.

And then it got worse. On 5th July 2012, Senior Management decided to shut Lilydale and move Prahran without talking to anyone. Whilst the VC says they have not had an adverse finding, members should ask the Vice Chancellor what her defence is to our court action that she broke the law. What is your defence, Linda?

Swinburne College Pty Ltd a Sign of the Future

In early 2013, Senior Management wrote a secret dodgy deal with 4 staff to undermine 100 others in Swinburne College. Remarkably, the Vice Chancellor signed the Agreement, signed the Application form and signed a statutory declaration saying staff had genuinely agreed. NTEU fought the application, intervening and demanding the rights of staff be upheld. No adverse finding though – at the last minute, the night before the Hearing in the Tribunal, the Vice Chancellor pulled the application. Dear Vice Chancellor, the Fair Work Act doesn’t allow you to withdraw Approval Applications so why would you break the law? What are you hiding? No adverse finding, but one of the biggest wins in our history!

Casualisation Out of Control

Casualisation has become endemic at Swinburne, despite the law requiring the Vice Chancellor not permit more than 21.5% (FTE) of the academic workforce to be casual. When we notified a dispute in 2012 about the level of casualisation being at 22% we thought it would be easily resolved. Boy, were we wrong!

We later uncovered that every month of ‘talk’ that went by, the Vice Chancellor was secretly creating more and more casual jobs – and no new secure jobs. From 22% in November 2011, to 26% in March 2012 to 32% in September 2012. When we were arguing before the Indsutrial Tribunal that Swinburne should have to create more ongoing jobs, the Vice Chancellors lawyers did all they could to stop us. Yet, the very basis of that dispute was that everyone agreed the University was in breach of its obligation under the Agreement.

It would appear the Vice Chancellor wants us to prosecute the University rather than try and resolve differences. The purpose of a disputes procedure is to avoid prosecutions, to resolve disputes locally and build a sustainable University.

Through negotiations we have come to understand why the Vice Chancellor doesn’t like disputes. From what we can tell, the Vice Chancellor is all for conflict, so why resile from reasonable disputes directed at making Swinburne better?

I Don’t Like It!

Well, we now understand the Vice Chancellor doesn’t like what the Agreement says. She doesn’t like limits on casualisation, she doesn’t like limits on fixed term contracts, she doesn’t like clauses which require her to provide a healthy and safe workplace free from bullying, she doesn’t like clauses which require Faculty management to negotiate academic workload models with staff, she doesn’t like the clause which requires Senior Management to treat all staff fairly and reasonably, she doesn’t like that HR doesn’t just tell you your classification, she doesn’t like all the appeal rights and natural justice, she just don’t like it!

And she wants them all deleted. Make no bones about it, if we agreed to management’s claims, all these protections would be gone. And worse, Senior Management has refused to even explain most of their claims. All the big issues, will not talk.

Union Busting on Public Purse

The Vice Chancellor finishes her email by explaining HR will hear from non-members about what they want to see in the Agreement. As if waiting a year since the expiry of our current Agreement and waiting 15 months without salary increases (well, except for the Vice Chancellor) wasn’t enough! (Irony alert) In what is clearly intended as a strategy to reach Agreement quickly with the ‘greatest threat to Senior Management in our time’ NTEU Swinburne Branch, we are to wait and hear from Senior Management what they would like to see as ‘staff’!

Let’s be clear. An Agreement is an industrial tool which prevents workers from taking industrial action for a period. It locks in conditions (the benefit to workers) whilst locking out industrial action (the benefit to employers.) That is why unions with dedicated and experienced industrial staff negotiate Agreements with employers. We have a live example of the kind of Agreement the Vice Chancellor wants to see if the union isn’t involved – just ask our colleagues at Swinburne College!

We think the Vice Chancellor has no idea what will happen if she follows through on her union busting attack. And we know she’s a union buster. Just ask  Swinburne College staff what would have happened had NTEU not intervened.

Truth About Time – 28 days to smash workplace rights, 216 days to avoid them

We know members understand how long they have waited for a new Agreement so we won’t focus on the comments about how negotiating takes time. We think 2 hours a fortnight shows just how much time it takes! Since much of this response has focused on a few porkies, we can tie the Swinburne College experience to this fallacy.

The Swinburne College Pty Ltd Agreement was negotiated in 28 days. That’s right 28 days.

Now we recognise Swinburne College is only one part of our Agreement so it might take more than 28 days…

Well, our Agreement expired 331 days ago. We gave the Vice Chancellor our claims 216 days ago. Our first meeting with Senior Management was 103 days ago. In the 103 days, despite our requests for daily meetings, at night and on weekends, Senior Management has only agreed to meet for 16 hours. Yes, two days, 16 hours, in 216 days (or 103 on HR’s reckoning.)

Perhaps if we had agreed to the Swinburne College Pty Ltd Agreement we could have finished a long time ago… We think a snowball in hell has a better chance than a single member agreeing to that dodgy rort.

So, Vice Chancellor, why can the Swinburne College Pty Ltd Agreement be negotiated in 28 days but the University Agreement is so complex it requires more than 216 days? And if you were serious, why would you only be prepared to have your Senior Managers meet with us for 2 days in those 216 days?

NTEU - Here to Stay

NTEU provides the greatest industrial cohesion at Swinburne and that is what she hates. We’re not going anywhere, our time has come. On the other hand, it appears time is up for others. By the end of June, time will be up on this Senior Management group.

Like any union, our strength comes from our members. If you have colleagues who are yet to join NTEU, now is the time to ask them to join. Send them the link or take them a form. Or better still, come to our NTEU office at Hawthorn between 10am and 4pm this Thursday 27th May 2013, join in person and receive a free Limited Edition Keep Cup.

Swinburne NTEU EBA Update, 27 May 2013