Union fights on after uneven victory in pay war

June 22, 2001

Australian university staff have won pay rises worth 12 to 16 per cent over the next three years.

All but four universities have negotiated three-year enterprise agreements with staff unions that set down working conditions, staffing numbers and salary increases. The agreements were reached after disputes that included bans on the release of examination results and strikes.

Under industrial relations legislation, each university must negotiate its own agreement with staff. But the National Tertiary Education Union has attempted to impose "pattern bargaining" to introduce minimum standards.

The union called for a 19 per cent pay rise with no job cuts but then set a minimum wage demand of about 12 per cent.

Universities warned that salary increases would come only with staff reductions.

Successive federal governments have failed to offset pay rises with increased grants. Until the early 1990s, the government automatically increased its higher education allocations in line with salary rises awarded to staff.

To try to force its industrial reform agenda on universities, the conservative government in 1999 offered them an additional A$259 million (£97 million) if their enterprise agreements met certain criteria.

The NTEU has taken federal court proceedings against education minister David Kemp over the offer, claiming he contravened the government's own legislation by offering universities salary supplementation, conditional on them achieving certain reforms.

A hearing was set for April but has been postponed to later this year. In the meantime, most universities have managed to negotiate agreements that meet most of the criteria and have received some supplementary funding.

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