The Guardian May 16, 2001


Wollongong University: Union's landmark case

A Federal Court prosecution over the sacking of a university lecturer 
has implications for all Australian employees working under enterprise 
agreements. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has lodged a 
prosecution against the University of Wollongong, on the NSW south coast, 
for the sacking last February of academic Ted Steele.

The NTEU says that the University breached its own enterprise agreement 
when it summarily sacked Dr Steele for alleged "serious misconduct" after 
he made serious criticisms of assessment procedures within his Department. 
None of the processes for assessing serious misconduct - which are set out 
in the University's enterprise agreement  were followed.

NTEU Wollongong Branch President Ron Perrin said that by acting as judge, 
jury and executioner, the Vice-Chancellor who sacked Dr Steele had ignored 
the employment rights of all university staff.

"Staff representatives at the University of Wollongong invested two years 
of time and effort in negotiating this agreement with the university 
management", said Mr Perrin.

"By his actions, Vice-Chancellor Gerald Sutton has shown that he has no 
respect for due process, and is prepared to breach the agreement whenever 
it suits him.

"The NTEU won't tolerate this action, as it threatens the job security of 
all staff."

NTEU General Secretary, Grahame McCulloch, said that the case was a 
landmark for the union, as the serious misconduct procedures contained in 
enterprise agreements were central to the defence of academic freedom.

"We've received national and international support for our campaign on this 
issue, with over 2000 signatures received in nine working days for an on-
line petition to the University Council", said Mr McCulloch.

Signatories so far include the General Secretary of the Confederation of 
Irish University Teachers, the General Secretary of the Association of 
University Staff (New Zealand) and a number of eminent academics.

"We won't stand by and allow our enterprise agreements to be treated with 
contempt, by this or any other university manager."

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