The National Tertiary Education Union has accused University of Wollongong management of “misleading and coercing staff” ahead of a strike this week.
UOW staff are planning to take industrial action on Wednesday, October 10 over insecure work and fair pay.
A letter from management was posted on the UOW staff intranet on October 4 which directed employees to notify managers, via an industrial action participation form, of their intention to strike.
Union branch president at UOW Associate Professor Georgine Clarsen said the letter was illegal.
She said staff were not required to notify management under the requirements of the Fair Work Act.
Only the union was required to notify an employer of industrial action three working days prior. The union did this on October 3.
“The request is unprecedented and is clearly intended to intimidate and discourage staff participation in the stop work action,” she said.
“We have seen management actually misrepresenting staff rights and responsibilities.
“We’ve also seen them seeking to bully intimidate and coerce staff not to participate in legally authorised and protected industrial action.
“We are shocked by the audacity of management’s attack.”
The union asked for an apology and a retraction from university management. It did not receive it from Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings by its 12pm deadline on Monday.
“We reserve our right to take the university and individuals to the Fair Work Commission because it is not on for management to harass staff especially when they are operating within their Fair Work guidelines,” Ms Clarsen said.
“We are taking this very seriously.”
The branch president said the letter had “scared” and “worried” staff members.
“Staff were asked to print out the form, write down their details, sign it, get the form signed by their head of school and then get their executive dean,” Ms Clarsen said.
“Members only had one day to get the form signed before the three day cut-off.
“People are stressed.
“Management are playing a hardball game but members are getting more determined.”
The planned strike will be the first industrial action taken since 2004.
Ms Clarsen said the union had spent five months seeking approvals to hold the industrial action.
“The union held a secret ballot where 94 per cent voted to take industrial action,” she said.
“Staff are legally entitled to strike and management are trying to subvert that process.”
Union members want to see the university turn around its trend of making its employees casual or on fixed-term contracts. UOW management has not come to the table with a pay offer.
“Between 70 and 75 per cent of university employees do not have secure work,” she said.
“We want the university to provide careers for people who do good work. They deserve better.”
A UOW spokesman said staff were asked to fill in the participation form to ensure they knew they would not be paid during the industrial action.
“The union’s October 3 notice of intention to take industrial action did not provide information about individual participants,” the spokesman said.
“The university must obtain this information in order to meet its legal obligations.”
The spokesman said the university had put measures in place to ensure these legal requirements were adhered to for the forthcoming industrial action.
“Measures have been implemented during previous periods of industrial action,” he said.
The spokesman added that university management was seeking to engage in “genuine, good faith bargaining with staff and their representatives” in accordance with Australian workplace law.
“The university prefers to engage directly with staff and their representatives in constructive discussions at the bargaining table rather than conducting workplace negotiations via the media,” he said.
“The university remains committed to working towards achieving enterprise agreements that ensure the university is a viable and sustainable organisation into the future; promote inclusive and equitable work practices; and provide supportive and flexible career pathways for staff.”