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Bonus update

Following last week’s CASA news, we were delighted to receive thoughtful and speedy correspondence from Jane Maze (Campaign and Communication Officer) and Stephen Darwin (ACT Division Secretary) of the NTEU ACT Division, on the proposed bonus to be paid to University of Canberra full time and part-time staff—excluding senior executive and casual/sessional staff.

We had mentioned that we were puzzled by media reporting from November last year that appeared to show NTEU support for the whole package, including the proposed bonus. Our source was the wording in an article published originally in The Australian, subsequently republished by Inside Higher Ed. We included the IHE link, which unfortunately was broken—it’s fixed now. This is what the article said:

STAFF at the University of Canberra will vote this week on an enterprise agreement that will link pay rises to the financial performance of the institution.

In what is thought to be an Australian first, the scheme also will include a bonus scheme for all staff if the university exceeds its projected operational surplus by $1 million, with the bonus pool capped at $2.5m.

The NTEU’s clarification is in line with what the University itself said at the time—that the bonus would be offered, but not as part of the Enterprise Agreement:

Outside the agreement, the University also proposes to bring in a bonus scheme where, after planned underlying margins are achieved, remaining surplus of $1.0 – 2.5 million is shared equally among all staff except senior managers. This could mean annual bonuses of around $1,000 – $2,500 per staff member; as a percentage of salary such a scheme is particularly valuable to lower paid staff.

(It’s also interesting to note that at the time, the exclusion of casuals wasn’t part of the press release.)

The response from the NTEU outlining their position is in full below.

We appreciate that in tough budgetary circumstances, Australian universities will need to think of ways to engage staff in cost-cutting. For the CASA community, however, the issue remains the extraordinarily ironic bracketing of casual staff with senior managers, and the exclusion of the lowest-paid from a bonus that their low pay helps to deliver.

And it’s an irony that compounds, given the promotion of the bonus on the grounds that “as a percentage of salary such a scheme is particularly valuable to lower paid staff”.

A bonus for lower-paid staff? Australia’s university casuals would like to see that.

Dear CASA,

Thanks for the attention you have given to the inequitable bonus scheme at the University of Canberra, and for your Twitter invitation to comment.
As you cited in the article, the NTEU regards this bonus scheme as a poor use of the funding that is provided by government and students; if it is going to happen however, a further bad feature is its exclusion of casual staff.
We wrote to members earlier this year noting that this represented part of a triple insult to casual staff:
  • In addition to being excluded from bonuses (foreshadowed then, confirmed now), casual staff who taught last year were not eligible for backpay under the University of Canberra Enterprise Agreement 2013-2015 unless they had been working on the day of 23 December 2013 (unlikely, of course). The University chose to make the narrowest possible interpretation of the clause outlining entitlement to this backpay.
  • The University of Canberra also introduced pay parking this year. Casual staff, unlike other staff, are not entitled to salary-sacrifice their parking costs. For most casuals, working less than five days per week, it would also only make sense to pay for parking at the more expensive per-day rate. Parking will end up as a considerably larger percentage of their low salaries.
We invited casuals to a meeting to discuss these issues. It turned out, however, that the issues the casuals came to talk about were not these ones, but the more crucial bread and butter issues of being paid for all their work and paid at an appropriate rate reflecting their responsibilities as, for example, unit coordinators, not simply tutors.
In other words, the meeting strikingly bore out what you say in concluding your article: ‘But the key issue is that the inequitable treatment of casual academics doesn’t begin with withheld bonuses; this is just a particularly tactless gesture that underscores the inequities “baked into the budget”….’.
Improving casual rights has therefore been a priority for the NTEU over the last two rounds of enterprise bargaining with university managements. Primarily, though, we seek to increase the opportunities for more secure work, since it will always be difficult for insecurely employed people to stand up for their rights.
I would like to clear up the ‘puzzling’ perceived inconsistency you mention in your last paragraph. The link there to media reports is broken, so I can’t check what they said; but this bonus scheme was never in any draft Enterprise Agreement for UC. Management aired the possibility of including it and quickly withdrew it. We would never take into account a bonus scheme offered tentatively outside the agreement as part of a ‘package’: only the Enterprise Agreement is enforceable and it is enforceable Agreements that we work to secure. I believe it was the final draft Enterprise Agreement that we would have described as ‘workable’ and, as I’ve said, this did not include the bonus.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me for any further information.
Jane Maze
Campaign and Communication Officer
ACT Division

About Karina

Living and working in the Sydney, Australia suburbs.


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