On 26 September Murdoch staff walked off the job for the second time since the Fair Work decision to terminate their agreement.
The Fair Work Commission granted Murdoch management’s application to terminate the enterprise agreement in late August. 26 September marked the date at which Murdoch University’s 3500 workers ceased to be covered. Murdoch has undertaken to maintain certain conditions for six months, but many employment conditions are still under threat. Those that remain—salary levels, superannuation contributions, redundancy payouts, leave entitlements—are all dependent on the “good will” of Murdoch management.
The University pled poverty during Fair Work proceedings but have been able to stump up $2.8 million for legal fees to union busting law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
Murdoch is trying to use the threat of reverting to basic Award conditions to bully its staff into accepting a new sub-standard Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.
Four WA universities started bargaining with the stated intention of negotiating new “simple, contemporary and fair enterprise agreements.” This was code for seeking the removal of rights and protections from agreements. Guided by an agenda set by the peak tertiary education industry body (AHEIA) university managements sought to erode clauses regarding discipline and unsatisfactory performance and to continue the unfettered use of fixed term and casual contracts.
The NTEU feared that other WA universities would follow Murdoch and terminate their old agreements. The determination to strip back agreements, however, did not seem to hold. The University of WA, Curtin University and Edith Cowan University have all now settled without major loss of conditions. Murdoch is left as the only university without a new deal. Clearly there is no honour or solidarity among thieves or would-be anti-worker managements.
The strike on 26 September at Murdoch coincided with a national teleconference meeting of all NTEU members. About 4000 attended meetings across the country and passed a motion in solidarity with Murdoch workers. Grahame McCulloch, General Secretary of the NTEU, told the meeting of striking workers at Murdoch that he was confident of victory but the struggle could be a “war of attrition” to win a decent agreement. 120 Murdoch workers walked out to join a protest outside the University.
Murdoch workers have taken the first step in the battle against a union busting management. But there will need to be a serious industrial campaign to maintain conditions. The ACTU points to Murdoch as an example of the need to “change the rules” over enterprise bargaining. But without rank-and-file members’ grassroots involvement and commitment to action, union officials might choose to compromise rather than “break the rules” to win the struggle.
By Phil Chilton