Education appears to be the next battleground for industrial rights, with unions fighting hard to protect wages and conditions of their members in education institutions across the state.
The Independent Education Union – Queensland and NT Branch is acting for employees of an independent school with a number of sites across the state, which wants to strip conditions back to the bare minimum under the Award.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said the employer’s strategy was nothing more than a direct attack on the working conditions of employees at the schools, and on the profession as a whole.
He said employers were now using the legislation to create a situation where the Modern Award – which was meant to be a safety net of conditions only – is now held up as the main determinant of working conditions.
He believes it’s another example of how current industrial relations legislation is failing workers.
The National Tertiary Education Union is also fighting on a similar front, with the federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham recently recommending that universities take the “nuclear” option and abandon staff enterprise agreements and revert to awards.
Murdoch University in Western Australian recently successfully applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate its enterprise agreement affecting 3000 staff, and NTEU State Secretary Michael McNally believes it is a worrying precedent.
Already James Cook University (JCU in Townsville) management is threatening to lock out National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members who take part in protected industrial action, despite the willingness of the affected staff to stay at work.
NTEU members have proposed bans on completing work not contained in their position descriptions.
However, in an extraordinary move, JCU management has threatened to lock out participating staff, despite their willingness to undertake the vast majority of their normal duties.
JCU management last week unilaterally took the decision to put its agreement to a vote after refusing to accommodate staff concerns about pay, hours of work and workloads during enterprise bargaining negotiations with the Union.
The NTEU is recommending that members vote “no” to JCU’s inferior agreement.
“Instead of allowing our members who want to work to do so, management would rather force them to stay away altogether,” said Michael McNally, NTEU Queensland Division Secretary.
“Our industrial action is about sending a message to management. Preventing our members from working is not only insulting to the contributions staff make to the University, but it is irresponsible in terms of the detrimental impact it will have on students,” he said.
Industrial action comes after 15 months of enterprise bargaining where JCU management have sought to strip a number of key employee conditions and protections from the enterprise agreement.
Both unions are fighting a worrying trend where employers are using the rules to deny decent wage rises and cut working conditions.