Murdoch University in Perth: Unprecedented 80% cut to staff pay!

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MURDOCH University in Perth, Western Australia, is attempting to force ‘safety-net award conditions’ onto staff – slashing their pay by up to 80 per cent.

‘It is an anti-union attack that risks the world-standard resource which makes Australian Universities so desirable for domestic and international students – their staff,’ said the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) on Tuesday.

The ACTU has written to Vice Chancellor Professor Eeva Leinonen, calling on the university to cease the unnecessary industrial conflict and engage in genuine negotiations with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) to find a deal which will continue to draw the best and brightest to the university to work and study without cutting pay and stripping conditions.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said: ‘The unnecessarily aggressive approach taken by Murdoch University is disappointing, and we have written to Vice Chancellor Professor Eeva Leinonen urging her to reconsider this tragically short-sighted action which risks destroying the quality of staff at her university.

‘We expect that the university will recommence bargaining in good faith with the union and come to an agreement which will not strip of pay and conditions on the understanding that without them, universities are nothing.

‘With a positive approach from the university, rather than continued antagonism, we believe this dispute can be resolved quickly so that it doesn’t impact on the sterling reputation that Australian higher education sector has rightfully earned internationally.’

Murdoch University management has applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the enterprise agreement covering academic and general staff in a move the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) describes as showing a complete lack of respect to dedicated employees.

If successful, this application would mean that the only industrial instrument regulating the employment conditions of Murdoch staff would be the terms of the safety-net modern Award which are way below the enterprise agreement conditions.

‘This application is expressly about removing hard-won conditions that management don’t want,’ explained NTEU WA Secretary Gabe Gooding.

‘The NTEU has been negotiating a new enterprise agreement since April, but the University has taken an aggressive stance, demanding wide and deep cuts to staff working conditions while pursuing costly and time-consuming legal avenues. Consequently union members took protected industrial action last Wednesday.

‘Management immediately filed for conciliation listed for this coming Friday, but before this could occur sought to terminate the current enterprise agreement. They didn’t even have the decency to put their plan to a staff vote. Staff of the university, whether union members or not, cannot see this as anything other than a co-ordinated attack on employment conditions by a management team that has completely abandoned all principles of fairness and decency toward staff,’ said Gooding.

NTEU General Secretary, Grahame McCulloch has sent an email to NTEU members across the country describing the attack as an ‘unprecedented act never seen before in the university sector.’

McCulloch wrote that a successful application: ‘would give the management, if it chooses, the capacity to demolish working conditions including the possibility of: reducing wages by 25–39 per cent; cutting redundancy entitlements by one third for academics and 80 per cent for professional staff; removing all academic workload regulation; ending rights to academic and intellectual freedom; and eliminating employer provided paid parental leave.’

Gooding added that the actions of Murdoch management are like those taken by rogue employers in the mining and construction industries, such as Griffin Coal, that resulted in a reduction in the pay of those workers by up to 43 per cent. The Western Australian Division of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) warned: ‘Murdoch senior management is engaged in the shameful act of attempting to axe the university’s employment agreement, which would erase wages and conditions of its teaching staff.’

Gabe Gooding said: ‘How will Murdoch staff ever be able to trust the management again? Neither have the management had the courage or the respect for staff to put their proposal to a ballot.’

Murdoch University students have spoken out in support of the fight of the workers:

• ‘I study at Murdoch University and the actions taken by Vice Chancellor Eeva Leinonen are shameful. The Vice Chancellor has seen fit to attack the work and pay conditions of the Murdoch University staff, this is especially raw as Murdoch senior officers are taking greater employee benefits and expecting staff to take pay cuts.’

• ‘This is a shameful act, and as a student of Murdoch University, I stand with the teaching and service staff. I stand with them because learning at an institution that has great employment conditions fosters a learning environment that benefits the students. As a student I also refuse to be part of an institution that so ruthlessly takes an axe to the workers terms and conditions.’

• ‘Not only is Murdoch’s management trying to remove the conditions fought for by their staff, but they have also tried to put a gag order on the union to stop it communicating with its members. This is not a Vice chancellor that negotiates in good faith, this is someone who wants to employ snake tactics in order to gut what makes Murdoch a great university… Its staff!’

• ‘Murdoch claims it is the university of innovation, but there is nothing innovative about its underhanded tactics. Think Murdoch, Think Shame!’ Murdoch University is home to over 18,500 students including 3,000 international students from over 100 countries.

• ACTU Secretary Oliver also launched an attack on the government of Australian Prime Minister Turnbull on Tuesday, saying: ‘Malcolm Turnbull has delivered the worst of both worlds: massive spending cuts hurting ordinary Australians and an economy in reverse gear.

‘After promising jobs and growth, Turnbull and his team have instead delivered high unemployment, record-low wage growth and now the real possibility of a recession – the first one in 25 years. The Government’s only plan is a massive hand-out for corporations who already don’t pay their fair share – and absolutely nothing for hardworking Australians.

‘Unemployment remains high while underemployment continues to grow, with historically low wage growth, increasing job casualisation and insecurity. The Australian economy has just gone backwards for the first time since 2008, at the peak of the GFC.

‘This Government refuses to acknowledge that we have a revenue problem and has squibbed tax reforms which would ensure we have enough revenue to pay for essential services. This Government also refuses to acknowledge its own role in driving down wages, not only is this forcing Australian workers to make do with less, but it is blowing a hole in government revenue, and continues to be a drag on economic growth.

‘We’ve already seen cuts to education, pensions, dental care, assistance for families, carers, unemployed people and students, research and development and investment in renewable energy. Mr Turnbull could give all Australians some good news ahead of Christmas and outline a plan for growth based on more well paid, secure jobs.’

• A new report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work has revealed the economic devastation that would occur if Alcoa’s aluminium smelter in Portland was allowed to close. The research shows if the Portland smelter closes $800 million will be lose from the national GDP, along with 3600 jobs. There would be a decline in government revenues of over $50 million per year in Victoria, and $192 million per year for the Commonwealth.

However, even more worryingly, the new report shows the pain would likely not end with the direct effects. A third of Alcoa’s Kwinana refinery’s output is currently sold to Portland, and the impact would be felt in WA as well. The new report finds if the ‘domino effect’ kicked in, 9000 jobs would be lost, with $1.75 billion lost from the GDP.

Australian Workers’ Union National Secretary Daniel Walton said the stakes were incredibly high. If the Portland smelter is allowed to fail it will have a devastating impact, but we now know there is also no guarantee the damage would end there. Portland is an integral part of the supply chain and if the Kwinana operation loses its biggest customer, it could very well end up on the rocks as well. Then we’d be looking at a genuine national disaster in Australian manufacturing.’

The AWU’s Victoria Secretary Ben Davis said: ‘This smelter is Victoria’s single biggest exporter. Its closure would devastate the state’s southwest and decimate Portland. Close to four thousand jobs are on the line, along with a sizeable chunk of Victorian industry. Everyone involved in this process needs to be crystal clear about the consequences of inaction.’