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Issue #1797      October 4, 2017

Wage cut bottom-line

According to the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), Education Minister Senator Simon Birmingham is becoming increasingly desperate in trying to get support for his unpopular higher education reform package. Vice-chancellors, staff and students are all campaigning against the package and clearly there is not enough support in the Senate to pass the legislative changes.

At last month’s Higher Education Summit, the Minister advised universities that the opportunity offered by the Fair Work Commission’s decision to terminate the Murdoch University Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, “should be seized, and hopefully can be replicated elsewhere” in the sector.

“Over the last couple of months, the Minister has floundered around trying to justify his policies, which make students pay more while university funding is cut,” said NTEU national president Jeannie Rea.

“At various times the Minister has claimed that universities have been the recipients of ‘rivers of gold’ and are ‘resting on their laurels with easy taxpayer funding’, resulting in excessive operating surpluses. All of this has been without any regard to how universities would fund future investment. Is the Minister encouraging universities to borrow more money, and if so, is he just transferring the debt from the Commonwealth’s balance sheet to that of universities?”

Rea noted that now we are seeing the Minister encouraging universities to terminate their enterprise bargaining agreements, which could not only result in substantial cuts to staff pay and conditions, but also remove important provisions that promote collegiality, consultation and stability, and provide protections including for staff to exercise academic freedom.

Birmingham’s attack on university staff collective agreements has strong echoes of the ideologically driven Higher Education Workplace Relations Reforms (HEWRRs) imposed by the Howard government in 2008 during the WorkChoices era. 

“The bottom line is that Coalition government policy is to reduce public investment in higher education, while expecting university staff to do more with less. Now he is going a step further and advocating cutting wages and conditions, as that is the purpose of terminating agreements,” concluded Rea.

Next article – Peace is union business

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