Southern Cross University Enterprise Agreement quashed by Fair Work Commission

THE National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU ) has welcomed the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission’s quashing of the approval of the Southern Cross University (SCU) Enterprise Agreement 2021.

The union claimed that the proposed agreement stripped core conditions including job security, procedural fairness and natural justice, and also offered an inferior pay outcome.

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It said that, after more than a year of bargaining, SCU management decided to conduct a non-union ballot in October 2022.

The ballot narrowly succeeded and the agreement was subsequently approved by the Fair Work Commission, over NTEU objections.

The NTEU filed a Notice of Appeal, and the matter was heard by a Full Bench of the Commission on October 18.

The Full Bench found SCU had misled staff in emails that claimed a $750 sign-on bonus would be paid to all casual staff when a majority of staff voted in favour of the agreement.

The NTEU said management was only required to pay, and only intended to pay, once the agreement was approved by the Fair Work Commission.

The Full Bench found that it could not safely conclude that the majority of staff who voted “genuinely agreed” to the Agreement.

The full bench upheld the NTEU’s appeal and quashed the initial approval of the agreement.

NTEU General Secretary Dr Damien Cahill welcomed the decision.

“This is a massive win for university staff who stood up for fair pay and conditions, and who supported contesting the validity of the ballot,” Dr Cahill said.

“The Full Bench decision now provides an opportunity for Southern Cross University management to address its relationship with its staff and their union by returning to the bargaining table and working on a fair deal that is sustainable and keeps pace with pay and conditions across the higher education sector.”

Dr Cahill said he hoped all universities “will take notice of this significant decision”.

“The NTEU will stand against any attempt to circumvent negotiations with Union members.”

Southern Cross University has since written to all staff following the ruling.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Carlin, expressed his concern for the uncertainty that the ruling created for staff, but provided them with reassurance that the decision would not impact pay increases that had already been provided for Southern Cross employees.

“We said that we would provide these, we did, and we stand by that,” Carlin said in relation to back-dated salary increases.

“Nothing changes our fundamental commitment that the arrangements that we ultimately make with respect to any future Enterprise Agreement for Southern Cross University should be governed by the needs and priorities of our people and our institution,” his message went on to add.

Professor Carlin said the University would continue to update staff in due course.

By Andrew VIVIAN

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