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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Too clever by half? « Previous | |Next »
September 24, 2003

I see that Brendan Nelson and Tony Abbott have now tied their reforms (increased funding to universities, deregulation of fees and loan schemes for students) to proposals for university workplace reforms to ensure individual contracts. This neo-liberal strategy has not been received kindly by the Senate or State Labor Premiers.

Everybody should calm down says the editorial in the The Australian. Individually negotiated contracts make it possible for university managements to reward high-performing staff, at all levels of the organisation, on the basis of their individual performance. It is all about merit. The free market is about individual merit and rewards.

The coercive nature of the top-down workplace reforms--if you don't do it then you won't get the funding is the pitch --- undercuts the Howard Government's claim about freeing up the universities. They claim that their reforms are setting the unversities free from regulation so they can become diverse institutions who operate in the marketplace as businesses in accord with their own strategies and tactics. But why not allow give the universities the space and incentives to devise their own labour market arrangements with their staff? Why be coercive? Why force people to be free? Why not encourage people to change custom and habitual practices. Why not offer them incentives to be free?

Or is creating industrial turmoil the point of this political exercise? The policy is one whereby individual workplace agreements must override certified agreements negoitated through the union. It is backed by a threat to make 2.5per cent funding increase conditional on the implementation of the workplace reforms. It also ties the funding to reform to ensure corporate governance. And the reforms are pushing voluntary student unionism. It also seeks to prevent academic staff from assisting union activities. That is a political exercise to break the power of the unions.

The market solution to merit basically means that universites as corporations will all try to hire Foucault for a term. As Academic Girl puts it:

"...universities and colleges in North American have become starry-eyed, wanting to having international reputations and hire the most reknowned, or at least the most fast-tracked, professors they can...."

This is not really practical for many regional universities. They cannot afford to hire Derrida since they will become second tier teaching institutions. They will be cutting wages for their teaching staff instead of seeking some international academic celebrity. So labor market flexibility means creating arrangements that favours the well-off universities and enables poorer regional universities to lower their wage rates through casual labour.

This strand of the Nelson reforms is about cutting benefits to academic staff to improve their productivity and efficiency. "Employment arrangements needing to be linked to the business needs of the institution" means doing more with less.

You can sense the bully boy tactics here behind the public smiles. No doubt there will be fists banging on ministerial desks when the Senate starts its sifting and winnowing of the government's legislation.
The universities are not impressed with being forced to offer individual contracts. They see the heavy hand of Tony Abbott. Universities are being forced to offer individual contracts to staff by a certain a cut-off date to pre-empt funding cuts even though the legislation that has yet to be ratified by parliament.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:30 AM | | Comments (1)


Merit schmerit.

It MAY sometimes be about merit, but anyone who's spent more than 5 minutes in the workforce knows it would more often be used to reward yes-people and punish whistleblowers or just workers who dare open their gobs. As you point out, the centrality of coercion in their approach is obvious in the way funding is tied to acquiescence.

I'd not have problems with AWAs or VSU on one condition - that any benefits accruing to union members (staff or students) that results from collective bargaining IS NOT passed on to those who chose not to join. I'm sick of seeing smartarse managers ridicule or harrass staff who join a picket for example, then happily pocket a percentage increase (which they disagreed with) that in dollar terms dwarfs mine.

It's time to call their bluff - OK, you want AWAs - fine. Many of us wish to bargain thru the union. Should we win concessions on pay or conditions - these are not to be extended to our non-union brethren. Comprende?

And another thing - why should Parliamentarians be allowed to bargain collectively. Fuck em - if it's good enough for us, it's good enough for them to have individual AWAs with their employer; the people of Australia. I don't know how you administer that one but they must be made to face the music they want to everyone else to hear.