After successive rounds of staff bargaining and a lack of movement on key demands, the ANU branch of National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has voted in support of strikes and industrial action.

The NTEU and ANU initiated enterprise bargaining negotiations last year, and they’ve carried on into this year. The NTEU has pushed for a number of key changes, including a 15% pay rise or the rate of inflation plus 1.5% (whichever is highest), a pathway out of casual job positions, and more balanced workloads.

However, Woroni understands that across April and May, the NTEU has seen a lack of movement on what it sees as key issues. Creating better pathways for casual staff (which compose 40% of ANU’s workforce) to become ongoing part-time or full-time staff has in particular seen little movement.

Earlier this month, NTEU members voted to hold a protected action ballot, a vote which determines what kind of industrial action the NTEU may take as part of the enterprise bargaining process. The vote closed at 4pm yesterday and the results show a resounding support for further industrial action:

  • 95.66% of voters supported strikes of 5 minutes to 24 hours.
  • 74.34% of voters supported indefinite strikes.
  • 93.02% of voters supported bans on duties outside their position description.
  • 92.45% of voters supported bans on working outside their usual hours of work.
  • 76.04% of voters supported bans on online systems.

These options provide the NTEU with the ability to steadily increase their industrial action if the ANU does not agree to demands. While not certain, recent strikes in the tertiary sector have begun with bans on specific work, then moved to half-day or full-day strikes, and then moved to more ongoing, indefinite strikes.

ACT NTEU Secretary Lachlan Clohesy confirmed that “…unless ANU Senior Management’s recent pay offer is revised, a strike at the ANU is all but certain.” But, he was clear that this strike will likely occur in Semester 2, meaning the ANU and the NTEU have the winter break to negotiate.

On Thursday, a day before voting closed, the ANU offered what it called a 16.99% pay rise from 2023 to 2026. However, the NTEU disputes this figure. Staff have yet to receive a pay rise deferred during COVID-19 that both the ANU bargaining team and the NTEU agree is part of the old enterprise agreement. The ANU also includes a 3.5% admin pay rise from earlier this year, but with no pay raise in 2022, and the agreement lasting until 2026, it equates to 3.2% each year of the agreement.

In an email to staff, the University touted their pay rise as making ANU staff one of the best paid in the sector. But, with the increase to the minimum wage this week, the award rate for the tertiary sector increased by 5.75%. Clohesy argues that salary offer is the “worst negotiated salary outcome” across the sector.

A spokesperson for the University told Woroni “We recognise the NTEU’s right to take industrial action. ANU has some of the best working conditions in Australia. The University has just put forward a very competitive pay offer of 17 per cent increase over four years. Negotiations continue to be positive and respectful and we are making good progress.”

A number of universities are seeing staff move to industrial action as bargaining breaks down. University of Sydney staff conducted the longest strike in the sector, while several Victorian universities have also moved to strikes. Universities tend to have high union participation, and a strike will have impacts throughout the ANU. Clohesy emphasised that “Union members take industrial action as a last resort.”

ANUSA has previously supported staff industrial action, under the slogan “Staff working conditions are student learning conditions.”

With the ANU making its pay offer public, it’s unclear at this stage if it will retract it. Increased reporting means the negotiations have become more public which may add another kind of pressure. Nonetheless, the University and the NTEU have around two months to negotiate before staff take such industrial action.

More reporting to come.

 

UPDATE: This article was updated to include a comment from the ANU.

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