Leaked document reveals universities' plan to drive down wages


1 March 2023

The National Tertiary Education Union has urged universities to abandon tactics designed to drive down wages and erode conditions after the higher education employer association's industrial strategy was revealed.
The Australian Higher Education Industrial Association, which represents more than 32 institutions, has advised its members.
In the leaked "strategy road map", AHEIA gives advice on how to avoid being "roped in" to multi-employer bargaining. It also suggests university managements should consider putting proposed pay offers directly to staff, without the backing of unions.
The AHEIA strategy road map gives detailed advice on how to access an intractable bargaining declaration and arbitration. 
The document makes reference to a presentation about the Albanese Government's workplace law reforms by Graeme Watson, who was senior industrial relations adviser to former Coalition minister Christian Porter.

NTEU General Secretary Dr Damien Cahill said:

"This is incontrovertible proof that university managements are using a concerted game plan to drive down wages and attack conditions. "Instead of negotiating with the NTEU in good faith, employers are more concerned with trying to ram through sub-standard agreements before multi-employer bargaining becomes more widely available. "We've suspected this was the case, with managements around Australia upending bargaining to put agreements to staff without union endorsement. "Now the truth has been exposed. We are seeing deliberate tactics to rush staff into accepting offers that don't give them fair pay rises. "The ridiculous thing is, the NTEU has been quite open about enterprise bargaining remaining the primary way we will continue to negotiate with public universities. "In this document, AHIEA explicitly nominates arbitration after achieving an intractable bargaining declaration as a path to 'success' in winding back clauses in agreements on key employment conditions like redundancies and staff reviews of management decisions. "Public universities should not be handing out million-dollar salaries to Vice-Chancellors while engaging in a sneaky race to the bottom on staff pay and conditions. "It doesn’t have to be this way. NTEU has reached agreement with employers at WSU, UTAS, ACU and QUT that deliver fair pay rises for staff and address job insecurity. We are close to reaching agreement with many other institutions." "University managements who use this game plan are on notice. The NTEU will not be intimidated by attempts to circumvent the best interests of our members.
"We urge all managements to bargain in good faith with the NTEU to ensure we create better universities through investing in their most precious resource - staff."

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said:

"Christian Porter’s former senior IR advisor is effectively advising universities to pretend to bargain – to engage in bad faith bargaining as a means of gaming the system to keep wages low. "Good faith bargaining is a requirement under law, and I doubt anyone will look kindly upon any employer who adopts strategies to avoid it. 
"Mr Watson quit his previous job after the spectacular failure to pass the Coalition’s Industrial Relations Omnibus laws. He has been hawking advice to corporate Australia ever since. "The advice he provides is out of step with the direction the country is moving in, including the expectation that employers adopt a more mature and realistic approach to bargaining. 
"Strategies designed to game the system to remove workers’ rights and deny fair pay increases are a recipe for conflict and very unlikely to succeed."

Contact: Matt Coughlan 0400 561 480 / [email protected]

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