Thursday, 14 May 2020

CPSU stridently opposed to higher education framework deal – Workplace Express 14 May 2020

The CPSU says it will vigorously oppose universities’ use of a framework COVID-19 response deal negotiated with the NTEU, claiming it requires lower-paid professional staff to sacrifice pay and conditions in part to fund “exempt” casual academics.

Hailed by the NTEU yesterday as a landmark agreement to preserve up to 12,000 jobs threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, it asks those in the JobKeeper-excluded sector to accept 12-month pay freezes or cuts of up to 15% (see Related Article).In return, the framework sets out “principles” aimed at retaining jobs, including ensuring no involuntary unpaid stand downs, sparing low-paid workers from wage reductions, linked pay cuts for managers and preserving entitlements at standard rates.

It also states that before any general pay or fractional reductions are implemented, vice chancellors and senior executives will “commit to greater pay reductions themselves”, with many already accepting cuts of 20% or more.

However, while the union states in the framework that “everyone gets a lifejacket”, the CPSU has lambasted it as a “clandestine agreement” negotiated behind closed doors, that puts radical measures ahead of “obvious and less intrusive” options.

CPSU-SPSF NSW branch assistant secretary Troy Wright told Workplace Express today that the deal demonstrates the NTEU – which jointly represents professional university employees in addition to its academic membership – has a “conflict of interest”.

He said the exemption for casuals would be of most benefit to academics, with the pay of largely permanent, lower-graded professional university employees reduced in part to subsidise them.

“It’s back to front,” he said.

Wright says that given the framework is the “most significant variation you could make to an enterprise agreement”, the CPSU should also have had a say in its design and must be included in any negotiations where it has members.

He says the union has already contacted universities to set out its expectations for negotiations for any agreement variations at the local level, where he says their unique exposure to the financial costs of the coronavirus will guide the approach.

But if a university “pulls this out and says it is the framework we’ll be working with, then there will be dramas”.

“We will vigorously oppose it at every turn.”

Australian Higher Education Industrial Association executive director Stuart Andrews, who participated in negotiations along with several vice chancellors – including two with roles in Universities Australia and the AHEIA – says changes will be considered and put to a staff vote at the local university level.

But he told Workplace Express that at this stage universities are still going through the detail of the framework and “getting their heads around what it will involve in terms of helping them deal with the predicament they are in”.

He said universities’ individual, local circumstances will guide their response.

Andrews added that it is an “important point” that the framework provides protections for those in less secure and lower paid jobs, including the exemption of employees’ first $30,000 earned before wages can be reduced.

Regarding the CPSU’s non-participation in negotiating the framework, Andrews said it is his understanding that the union has been “fully aware of the discussions”.