Daily Archives: February 12, 2007

“He can’t work, he is useless”

The QUT HR spin doctors put out propaganda with slogans like “Real people, Real service” when this institution is about “Real Money and Real Business“.

But what about the workers, teachers and students at Universities? How many times have you heard management say that one of their staff (admin worker or teacher) are useless? Even workers and teachers take up this chant against their workmates and colleagues.

It is Universities that have power to act on these prejudices as a result of an EBA signed by five unions including the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Australian Services Union (ASU).

The QUT Professional Staff Agreement 2005 – 2008 states:

“47.2 Notwithstanding any other provisions of this clause the University may at any time during the probation period confirm or terminate the employment of a probationary staff member.”

(My emphasis)

1. Did the union EBA negotiators understand this clause when they recommended the EBA to members?

Answer: If it can be blamed on another union it will be, if it can be blamed on WorkChoices it will be, if it can be blamed on the prior Workplace Relations Act… if it can be blamed on an individual… just so long as the nature of the master/servant relationship is not challenged openly in struggle. The deals have to be done, the only way forward is through the parliament, Labor must be elected

2. If they did, how could they recommend giving management the power to sack workers summarily?

Answer: This clause is not in the QUT Academics EBA. The NTEU did not negotiate the EBA for professional staff (sic) … the collective has gone, academic and professional staff are divided, professional staff are too concerned with their own individual pursuits. People voted for Howard.

3. Why is this clause in the QUT Professional staff agreement and not in the QUT Academic Staff agreement?

4. Has the union signed up to similar clauses in EBA agreements in other tertiary institutions?

Nowhere is there a collective strategy to challenge management where the power resides — in the workplace.

Those academics interested in industrial relations join the industrial club with human resources staff, union reps, and IR lawyers rather than organise for workers rights.
The career path for union organisers has gone down the path of professionalism like the teachers and general staff they represent, so that in the end many represent management.

Unions have known for over ten years how bad the unfair dismissal laws are. The Workplace Relations Act 1996 made them more unfair.
So much so that in 2003/2004 only 42 workers were reinstated out of over 8,000 unfair dismissal claims in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC). Good luck to the 42 but these were the ones that where the cases were heard by an IR Comissioner, what about all the others that never got that far, were bullied and harrassed out of claiming unfair dismissal.

Yes, it takes years to be build a collective, a union of workers, this task should have begun ten years ago yet it has been put off in the interest of legality, to have labor-in-power—a collective postponed for ten years as union decline worsened.

No union should have agreed to this clause or accepted it after it was agreed to by another union; not for the promise of university funding, not for increased staffing, not for more casual jobs, nor for anything.
This clause and its agreement by the unions involved gives the employer unfettered right to summarily dismiss a person on probation.
The union should be about preventing unfair dismissal before they occur. The NTEU website says:

“The NTEU is currently carrying out a widespread national and local campaign in support of the workplace rights and conditions of university staff. “

If this be true, how could the NTEU (and other unions) have let this clause slip under the radar? The union may choose to throw resources to help people who have already been sacked but the horse has already bolted.

Unfair Dismissal
I was one of the admin workers affected by this EBA, I was first sacked by my supervisor on 7 Feb 2007 at QUT under this EBA and then sacked again by the University HR department a few weeks later. Here is my story of unfair dismissal not to be hidden by the defeatist or the compromised under challenge from a HR department clearing the way for business and profit in the higher education sector.

Union Negotiation
The Director of HR Services at QUT, Graham MACAULEY called a compulsory meeting for 2 March 2007 ostensibly to hear my response to the allegations made against me by management. The real reason was that my probation was to expire on 4 March 2007 and he believed it would be easier to sack me during probation. Hence the pretext at giving me a response to what he had heard from my supervisor.

The NTEU’s industrial officer in Brisbane had been speaking to QUT HR management about my case during February 2007.

After the meeting on Friday 2 March 2007 with QUT management I wrote to the National Tertiary Education Union’s industrial officer, Leah Cenciq, asking the following questions:

  1. What reason was given to you today by the QUT HR Director, Graham MACAULEY, for my termination?
  2. Could you provide me with his written reasons?
  3. You did not tell me that the management rep at today’s meeting, Ms Jane Banney, Deputy Director of HR at QUT was a former organiser with the Qld Public Sector Union [QPSU]?
  4. Was it Jane Banney who told you about the BushTelegraph article “He Can’t Work, He’s Useless”?
  5. Did Jane Banney tell you that Graham MACAULEY would challenge that article at the meeting?
  6. After the meeting you told me how smart Jane Banney [HR Deputy Director] is. When I asked why you answered with a question ‘couldn’t you tell?’
  7. Do you regard Jane Banney’s transformation to management rep. as a valid career path for a union organiser? (emphasis not included in email to Ms Cenciq) What discussions did you have with the Deputy Director HR about my case?As yet I have received no reply from the NTEU. The industrial officer fired back a scanned image of the letter from the HR Director dated 2 March 2007 confirming my sacking (see attached). The HR Director has provided no reasons for my termination either at the 90 minute meeting or in his letter below. Logically it follows that a person can be sacked with no reason given under the QUT EBA.

It was only after I received this response with no reply to my questions from the industrial officer have I published this story.

Labor Response
The former Labor leader, Beazley, said at the WorkChoices Rally at SouthBank in June 2006 that he would rip up the IR laws on the condition that workers in each workplace voted against Australian Workplace Agreements [AWAs].

The new labor leader, Rudd, is supporting small business over unfair dismissal. He is supporting laws favourable to contractors and unfavourable to workers.

Unions should rip up this enterprise agreement and others like it. The QUT EBA is anti-worker, it is anti-union.

Failed Individuals
As if to shove my failure down my throat I received the following (almost festive) email on 13 March 207 from the NTEU declaring the birthday of WorkChoices:

As we approach the first anniversary of John Howard’s workplace laws it’s time for an assessment of their impact on the community. Hear some views from all sides from our expert panel:
it’s been one year!
Professor David Peetz (IR academic from Griffith University)
Hon John Mickel (Queensland Industrial Relations Minister)
Grace Grace (General Secretary, Queensland Council of Unions)
Stephen Nance (Manager, Workplace Relations, Commerce
Andrew Johnson (Justice and International Mission Advocate,
Uniting Church)

The experts do not get it. They talk about the effect of WorkChoices on the community. They mean the electorate. What about the workers? When the Queensland Council of Unions began this campaign they held meetings of delegates and ran through statistics about marginal seats without first addressing whether Labor would have the capacity to deliver on WorkChoices. Delegates tried to put up motions for industrial action but were prevented.

Management have assigned workers to ‘failed individual’ status. Even if workers chose the collective, they could not have it, they are seen as individuals, failed ones at that. This is how Labor sees workers as well, not to be trusted with power, only as voters every three years.

And they want workers to vote for the Rudd elite over the Howard elite.

Management consign many workers to the status of failed individuals in society.

The unemployed person is the classic.

It is he/she that society blames.

Have solidarity and collective action disappeared from the workplace at higher education instiutions like QUT? Is the NTEU a union of workers, or is it a professional association, interested in legalistic, liberal professional elites and not in workers democratic rights?

Change will only come from the workers, teachers and students themselves, this story above demonstrates that it will come from nowhere else. Under capitalism, if you can’t work, you are useless — you are no longer a real person. Only in a socialist society will workers have democratic rights.

Ian Curr
15 March 2007