David Pink is enraged with the machine

Some of the most vehement smears coming out of Management’s PR machine is that  the NTEU is asking for wage rises above community expectations, and that the University’s offer of a 2% per annum wage increase is a “reasonable” offer. As staff go out on strike for 48 hours this Tuesday and Wednesday, I thought I’d devote this report to an excerpt from an open letter circulated by Rowanne Couch, a staff member in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. It goes some way to disposing of the smoke and mirrors game being played by the University:

The University is offering a 2% per annum wage increase over the term of the next enterprise agreement. In effect this is an offer to accept a decline in real wages in return for staff delivering on these nebulous productivity gains. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the cost of living in Sydney as represented by the Consumer Price Index rose by 2.4% in the 12 months to December 2012. Examining the ABS Wage Price Index we can see a 3.4% increase in private sector wages and a 3.2% increase in public sector wages nationally over the same period (ABS 6401.0, ABS 6345.0). Are we expecting these trends to reverse?

There are few ways to parse this offer that aren’t ridiculous. Should staff perhaps retaliate with an offer to deliver an annual 0.4%-1.4% decline in productivity to account for the real wages forfeited over the term of the agreement? I think not. While I understand that both parties in a negotiation of this nature indulge in the time-honoured ritual of inflated ambit claims at both ends of the spectrum, the University’s intransigence on this aspect of the offer is disheartening.

It is also a fact that the costing assumptions made available to staff to assist with budgeting last year assumed a 3% per annum increase in salaries over the period 2013-2015. If 3% is already in the University’s sights in a rolling budget approved by Senate, then surely insistence on a 2% offer in the current bargaining round is derisory.

In the absence of a proposed increase in real wages, where is the demonstrable protection of hard-won non-cash benefits that might allow us to consider the required productivity gains a ‘trade-off?’

One of the reasons most often cited colloquially among staff to justify their continued loyalty to the University, despite the attractions of higher salaries on offer in industry and elsewhere, is that the non-cash benefits of our contracts (should we be lucky enough not to work as casuals) are a tacit acknowledgement of the University’s commitment to the well-being of its workforce. Among these, our superannuation, maternity leave and sick leave benefits are standouts.

I have no doubt that you of all people would recognise the importance of history in helping us understand our present predicaments. Those with long enough institutional memories will remember that trade-offs in previous enterprise bargaining rounds were predicated on acceptance of a disciplined cap on wage claims in return for non-cash benefits that were more generous than those on offer in other sectors. They were intended to bridge the divide between the potential remuneration pulling-power of highly skilled staff were they to transfer to other sectors, and what the University, cash-strapped as always, was capable of offering.
To now turn and deplete these provisions while simultaneously offering such a paltry increase in salaries can only be considered insulting.

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