Only two years later, the university took the same approach when negotiating a new collective agreement for businesses. In its draft contract, the university proposed that supplements for all middle-level administrators be conditional on the officer receiving an “exceptional” rating – the highest possible – during its annual performance review. In the meantime, senior administrative staff “would not apply at all to incremental progression.” It was practically a permanent wage freeze. Why is it that a university with nearly 17,000 employees offers only a quarter of them to job security? Margaret Simons, who was head of the Centre for the Promotion of Journalism at the University at the time of the reforms, and who has since joined Monash University, remembers that she should spend every month programming every day for the Centre: “I`m an associate professor, and I`m basically collecting time-based data.” The ranking system strongly favours research-intensive universities. The more high-quality research a university can produce, the higher its ranking. But producing high-quality research is an expensive business. In order for the research funds to be disbursed, the university had to find savings in other areas and it was the staff who bore most of the burden. The frozen need for pay and job security sparked a protest by tutors on campus earlier this month. In mid-2018, after 18 months of tense fighting, the university finally signed a single agreement covering both academic and administrative staff. The program, implemented between July 2013 and February 2015, included a comprehensive review of the university`s administration, which management considered “ineffective.” More than 500 directors were laid off and many more had to reapply, often with lower salaries. As a general rule, the negotiation process would begin with university and union negotiators meeting to share a “list of demands” containing the most important elements they wish to address in the agreement. However, at the first meeting in February 2017, the university had already drawn up two draft contracts: one for academic staff and one for administrators.

In a national tertiary sector worth more than $40 billion a year, the University of Melbourne is leading the pack. It is the best Australian university in the international rankings for much of the last ten years. But this success has a price. There were obvious benefits for the university in the split of the EBA. This would mean halving the bargaining power of each group and doubling the work of the union bargaining team. But above all, and especially after the big deal of GDP, it would again create a gap between academic and administrative staff. Over the past decade, the university has spent nearly $2 billion on new buildings. High rankings have attracted a flood of international tuition fees, but the university has made sure to invest in buildings rather than staff. But with more than half of the university`s 17,000 employees on indeterminate contracts and another quarter on fixed-term contracts, most are still fighting for job security.

A pamphlet on campus highlights the issue of the remuneration of the university`s many casual academics. This compromise was known behind closed doors as the “big bargain” of GDP, as described in a confidential investigation.

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