Academic unions in Australia are condemning a decision by the University of Ballarat that requires all new staff to accept individual employment contracts in order to take up their appointments.
The move comes just six months after the Australian government introduced controversial new industrial relations reforms that require universities to offer employees the choice of accepting an individual employment contract, known as an Australian Workplace Agreement, or being covered by a union-negotiated collective agreement.
Critics say that Ballarat’s decision to force staff to sign individual contracts signals that the real intention of the reforms is to undermine collective bargaining.
“This is proof of the government’s real agenda — to enable employers to remove the right of workers to collectively bargain, and force them onto individual contracts that reduce wages or conditions,” said Sharan Burrow, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. “This is not about giving employees better choices, it’s about giving them no choice but to accept whatever the employer offers, or not have a job.”
Matthew McGowan, a division secretary of the Australia based National Tertiary Education Union, said the individual contracts that new Ballarat staff will have to sign strip away key staff entitlements.
“These individual contracts will remove important conditions of employment. No negotiation means no choice,” he said.
McGowan also said the university’s announcement made a mockery of the government’s rhetoric about providing university staff with “genuine choice” about what type of agreement they are employed under.
“With the University of Ballarat being the only public university to force future staff onto individual contracts, the administration will entrench the university as an employer of last choice in the higher education sector,” he said.
CAUT has officially condemned Ballarat’s decision, calling the administration’s actions an attack on fundamental and widely accepted international labour standards.
In a letter to Ballarat’s chancellor and vice-chancellor, CAUT president Loretta Czernis and executive director James Turk warned that the administration’s actions will have international repercussions.
“Your actions signal to us in Canada and to the international academic community as a whole that Ballarat is an institution that does not respect the basic employment and academic rights of its staff,” they said. “This will have a serious impact upon your ability to recruit and retain qualified staff at a moment when the international competition for staff is intensifying.”