Murdoch uni staff left at mercy of employer after FWC terminates collective agreement
In one of the most shameful examples of just how broken Australia’s industrial laws are, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) made the decision this week to terminate the Murdoch University collective agreement placing the working conditions of over 3000 employees at the whim of their employer.
The Commission’s decision to grant the university’s application to terminate the agreement comes despite ongoing protests by employees who did not want to see the hard fought for conditions contained in their current agreement put at risk.
Prior to the decision, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) had stated it believed that should the application to terminate the agreement be successful it would give management, if it chooses, the capacity to demolish working conditions including the possibility of:
- Reducing wages by 25%-39%.
- Cutting redundancy entitlements by one third for academics and 80% for professional staff.
- Removing any workload regulation.
- Ending rights to academic and intellectual freedom.
- Eliminating employer provided paid parental leave.
Following the decision National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) WA Secretary Gabe Gooding said the way in which the collective agreement had been terminated was yet another example that Australia’s industrial laws were badly broken and must change to ensure the just treatment of workers.
Ms Gooding said that NTEU had consistently maintained that such an extreme action by Murdoch management was unnecessary, and that the University could achieve a fair agreement by taking a sensible negotiating position.
“The NTEU’s position has always been that Murdoch employees deserve fair and reasonable working conditions, consistent with those that apply elsewhere in the university sector,” Ms Gooding said.
Ms Gooding criticised the $2.8 million Murdoch University had committed to spend on legal fees, on bargaining, the case and actions against the Union, saying it was difficult to see how a public institution can justify such an expense, particularly when the University used its $5 million operational deficit as part reason for the termination application.
“Such a high level of expenditure on legal fees undermines any claim that management might make that urgent change in employment conditions of its workers is needed to address its financial position,” she said.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said the Commission’s decision was not just of concern to the higher education sector but one that had the potential to impact our sector and any other employee in Australia whose working rights and conditions are covered by a collective agreement.
Mr Burke said the hostile action of management at Murdoch University towards their employees and their utter lack of respect for the collective bargaining process was being replicated across the country.
“This week it was Murdoch University management, last week it was the international corporation Unilever announcing it planned to seek termination of its agreement for its staff who work for its Streets brand and seek to cut wages by 46%,” Mr Burke said.
“When we have such blatant examples of employer disrespect for the collective bargaining process – where they can dig their heels in and turn to the FWC to terminate an agreement because they don’t like it – it is clear that the federal Industrial laws we operate under are broken.
"We also face a Federal Government, that clearly supports business over workers - especially when you have the Education Minister now urging all universities across the country to follow Murdoch's lead and terminate the collective agreements already in place for their employees.
“It's clear that Australia's current industrial laws need not just mending but a substantial makeover to restore a proper balance to the rights of workers and they also need a government that is supportive of workers and the right of employees to maintain their hard fought for working conditions,” Mr Burke said.