Present tense

UTS College win

It’s been a tough 18 months in the ELICOS sector, but your union has been fighting for members throughout. And when we get a win for members, we like to shout about it!

UTS College (formerly called Insearch) has been steadily shedding staff since the pandemic began, and recently the big pool of sessional (fixed-term) teachers were advised that there would likely be no work for them for several months at a minimum.

Many of these teachers had worked at the college for several years, such that some were eligible to receive payment for accrued long service leave, having been employed there for at least 10 years.

There were many teachers, however, with service between five and 10 years, and their long service leave entitlements were less clear cut. The Long Service Leave Act 1955 provides for a pro rata payment of long service leave for employees whose employment is ended following an action taken by the employer. A redundancy, for example, would trigger this provision, but a resignation would not.

UTS College argued that as these were fixed-term employees, their most recent contract ended the employment without the employer taking any action. However, this argument was stymied by the JobKeeper program, which effectively renewed each of these contracts until that program ended in March. In the absence of any contract with an end date after this, the IEU argued that the college could not rely on the expiry of a sessional contract to say that the employment had ended.

After some back-and-forth between the IEU and the college, the college eventually conceded the argument and agreed to pay pro rata long service leave to those sessional employees with between five and 10 years of employment. This was a great outcome for those members, and a great reminder that IEU membership is valuable even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Navitas English extension

Another employer with significant IEU membership is Navitas English, the company which runs many of the Federal Government’s English and work programs for migrants and the unemployed. Employees at Navitas English are employed under an enterprise agreement (EA) which hit its nominal expiry date on 30 June 2021.

Earlier this year, Navitas approached the IEU with a proposal to ‘roll over’ the existing EA, while we had discussions about expected changes to the government programs, and how these might be conducted in the future. In return for this pause, Navitas agreed to flow through a general pay increase equivalent to the Wages Price Index (which this year was 1.5%). More recently, the government extended the life of the existing contracts, and so Navitas offered to pay a WPI increase in 2022 as well, with a view to starting a new agreement in the middle of 2023.

There’s no doubt that the sector has suffered a huge hit from the pandemic, and given that neither migrants or refugees have been able to enter the country since early 2020, Navitas English has been hit as hard as anyone. The arrangement to extend the existing agreement (and concomitant pay increases) is therefore a great one for members in the current circumstances.

Westerm Sydney University The College agreement

The IEU has been negotiating, alongside our sister unions, the National Teriary Education Union and the Community and Public Sector Union, with Western Sydney University The College since early 2020 for a new EA. These discussions were greatly impacted by the pandemic in 2020, but the parties have been meeting regularly since the middle of last year.

Overall, the negotiations have been conducted in good spirit, and for a time it appeared there was a genuine willingness of all parties to find common ground and forge a new agreement. However, as we've got to the business end in recent months, it is clear that the parties were some way apart on a few key issues.

Particularly contentious is the college’s insistence that salary increases be extremely limited, with increases no higher than 1.25% per annum coupled with small increases in superannuation. The college has refused to make any significant concessions on some of our other claims, such as job security and casual marking. This is despite the fact that the college has weathered the pandemic comparatively well, and is in a sound financial position.

Disappointingly, the college decided to move ahead to a ballot on a proposed agreement, despite the fact that all the unions involved campaigned for a ‘no’ vote. In a great result, the proposed employer agreement was voted down overwhelmingly, with 78 percent of employees voting 'no'. The IEU will now seek to reconvene negotiations with the college to try to improve the offer and finalise an agreement with pay rises and improvements that reflect the hard work of staff at the college.

Kendall Warren