Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

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Issue #1610      September 11, 2013

Conga line protest

Staff at Melbourne’s Centre for Adult Education (CAE) stopped traffic in Flinders Lane, Melbourne for 30 minutes last week over management’s threat to remove the right of staff to have the Fair Work Commission (FWC) arbitrate over disputes and grievances.

Staff formed a conga line going back and forth on the pedestrian crossing near the City Library. National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) national industrial coordinator, Linda Gale, said that management were still pressing for cuts to conditions as part of collective bargaining negotiations which have dragged on for more than two years.

“Staff have been striking for at least one minute a day and up to one hour a day over the past week. This has been the first real strike action since the centre was established in 1947. However, management will not negotiate in good faith and its proposal to do away with the right to have the FWC arbitrate in disputes adds insult to injury,” Gale said.

Gale said the 130 CAE staff had every right to feel aggrieved.

“CAE workers haven’t received an across-the-board pay rise since May 4, 2010. We first started negotiating for a new collective agreement back in February 2011, with an in-principle agreement struck in December 2011.” The Victorian government would not approve it. In December 2012, the NTEU struck an in-principle agreement again but six months on, the CAE reneged on that agreement – and then added 36 new changes, most of which involved cuts to conditions and entitlements.

Amongst other things, the CAE wants to limit union representation, cut personal leave and take away paid long service leave from casual and sessional staff. The CAE also wants to make a swag of changes to the entitlements of employees facing redundancy, to reduce consultation rights and eliminate the compulsory monitoring of employee workloads.

“Even though it’s been more than three years since non-teaching staff, casuals and sessionals had a pay increase, all the CAE will offer is a piddling 2.5% – not per annum, but for the whole past three years! It doesn’t go anywhere near matching the CP1 increases. It’s actually a wage cut.”

Gale said that CAE staff were geared up for a protracted struggle.

“This is just the beginning of what we expect to be a long, hard fight. We’ve also implemented bans on entering student results, producing certificates and processing invoices. Members have endorsed a range of actions, including an indefinite stoppage of work,” she said.

Gia Underwood, the NTEU industrial officer who has been leading the negotiations, said members were united in their anger against the threat to their union and their rights.

“They’re not stupid. They know the CAE Board is determined to reduce the rights of members to be represented by the union. The CAE Board has launched a number of ideological attacks on staff representation and entitlements. Our members want the Chair, Elizabeth White, to take the lead in treating staff with decency,” she said.

Next article – Freedom Flotilla

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