Australian academics have launched a campaign to win a 10 per cent pay rise and improve their working conditions over the next two years.
Professors will earn more than Aus$90,000 a year (Pounds 43,000), senior lecturers Aus$80,000 (Pounds 38,000) and lecturers up to Aus$70,000 (Pounds 33,500) by late 1996, if the campaign succeeds.
The fight for better salary and conditions is linked to a new era in Australian higher education that begins this month when every public university in the country will be involved in individual workplace bargaining.
Central wage-fixing and the establishment of uniform working conditions for academic and general staff ended earlier this year when unions and university employers agreed to switch to the new system called enterprise bargaining.
But only now are the procedures finally in place for the higher education unions to start pushing their wage claim. Although the bargaining will take place on each campus, the National Tertiary Education Union is co-ordinating the campaign and union officials will be present during the negotiations.
Enterprise bargaining has been promoted by the Keating Labor government, anxious to improve Australia's productivity and international competitiveness.
The unions only agreed to the scheme being introduced after they received legislative guarantees that no worker would be worse off.
For academics, the initial outcome should see most achieve a 2 per cent pay increase by September 1995, to be paid by the universities. But the NTEU will also seek a further 8 per cent rise, to be funded by the government, which the union hopes will reach staff over the next 18 months.
The union has spent the past ten months informing its members how the new processes will work and training key branch officials in bargaining skills. It has also developed "bargaining agendas" in consultation with each of its branches and these include a mixture of common national claims and locally-identified issues.
Among the national claims are increasing pay equity between men and women, the regulation of fixed-term and casual contracts, codification of existing conditions where these are not already covered under an industrial award, and greater flexibility in working hours for staff with families.
The union argues that apart from the initial salary rise many of these can be met at little or no cost, yet they will deliver improvements in both working conditions and productivity.
Union officials are confident the government will support a further big pay rise because their lobbying will coincide with the federal elections when the Keating administration will be looking for all the help it can get.