The Guardian December 13, 2000


University staff impose work bans

by Peter Mac

Staff at three Australian universities imposed work bans  last week in 
support of new enterprise agreements. At Melbourne University five academic 
staff, including two senior lecturers who supported the bans, were stood 
down.

The bans at Melbourne University are in protest against a reduction in 
working conditions and job cuts being sought by management.

Negotiations have dragged on for several months due to the "stonewalling" 
tactics of the University management.

At Melbourne University the Students' Union has supported the stand taken 
by the staff in their dispute.

The agreement being sought by the unions would include a 15 percent pay 
increase, to be introduced over three years, and the rejection of 
management-initiated reductions in workplace conditions.

With regard to the non-transmission of results, the University's Acting 
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sally Walker, recently stated stiffly that 
"University of Melbourne staff have always been reluctant to hold students 
to ransom".

However, the responsibility for non-transmission of results now rests 
firmly with the University management because of their actions in standing 
down the staff concerned.

To date the union has endeavoured to make exam results available verbally 
in cases of potential financial hardship or embarrassment, but the stand-
downs now mean that no exam results will be available, since the 
responsible staff will not be at their workplace.

Moreover, the action will mean that staff will not be available to provide 
assistance in other respects to students, including those studying for 
postgraduate degrees.

The Melbourne University struggle has also been exacerbated by a legal 
battle over the stock-exchange float of a company which was originally a 
University organisation, and which developed the major infrastructure for 
the issue of Internet domain names in Australia.

The company was floated at what turned out to be an extremely low value, 
with shares issued to a select list of the most valued clients of the 
stockbroking firm of J B Were.

The shareholders have since enjoyed massive benefits as the shares soared 
in value. Despite their hard work in developing the organisation, the 
original University staff were not offered any of the shares, and all 
University staff were expressly forbidden from gaining shares (with the 
exception of one lecturer, who was offered shares for no apparent reason 
and in contravention of the University's own decree).

The University is, of course, now deprived of a potentially rich source of 
income from an organisation which it appears to have sold for a pittance.

In NSW other battles over enterprise bargaining agreements have broken out 
at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) and the University of New England 
(UNE).

Last week UNE management walked out of negotiations over a new agreement, 
and later on the UWS management rejected a union compromise proposal and 
applied to the Industrial Relations Commission for an order to the National 
Tertiary Education Industry Union NTEU) to lift the bans.

They have now also threatened to stand down staff participating in the 
bans.

In the meantime the union has vowed to do all it can to help maintain 
academic levels and to avoid causing financial embarrassment or other 
difficulties for students.

Mike Donaldson, State Secretary of the NTEU stated last week that, "We 
believe strongly that the management's proposals will see a decline in the 
quality of education at both universities and we are not willing to let 
that happen....

"It is not our aim to cause students financial harm and we will make sure 
that doesn't occur."

The various university managements concerned in the struggle over workplace 
bargaining agreements do not appear to have given any such undertaking.

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