“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

4 thoughts on ““He can’t work, he is useless”

  1. sam watson / brisbane says:

    I have just learned that a really strong friend and supporter and fellow activist ( I.C.) has been sacked from his job at the UQ. If this action was taken by the employer in a mandatory way, as a community we should rise up and defend our comrade. As workers we must defend the rights of all our comrades and friends and supporters. The work place is a sacred site in which we should all celebrate and acknowledge the heroic struggles that have been fought by generations of magnificent men and women, who never backed down a single inch to the bosses and to the forces of capital.
    Together we must stand, together we must struggle. We have come a long way; but the journey has only just begun.

  2. Thanks for your kind comments.

    The unions have traded off workers rights in order to secure funding for Universities.

    How can Universities operate properly if funding gained is workers loss?

    Nothing useful will be learnt by students if teachers and workers produce the courses that are a fetter to workers rights.

    During Apartheid in South Africa the schools were closed in Soweto.

    But the students still learnt how to struggle against the racist apartheid, to change South Africa for black and white.

    How can workers support unions that surrender what little power we have to the boss?

  3. Margaret Lee (NTEU) says:

    Dear Mr Curr,

    Thank you for your email notifying Barbara Williams, Division Organiser for the NTEU Queensland Division Branch of your views on the Your Rights at Work Campaign (YRAW) and the NTEU’s activities concerning that campaign. I am responding to all members who have written to us regarding our notification of the forthcoming YRAW event at Windsor. Of more than 600 members to whom the notification was sent, as of today’s date you are the only one who has provided us with any comments.

    According to our records you are a relatively new member, having worked at QUT, but our records show that you are currently not employed in the Higher Education sector. Given your short period of membership, you may be unaware of a relevant decision of National Council. The NTEU National Council in November 2006 unanimously decided to direct the NTEU to engage in and support the YRAW campaign. As you may know, National Council is the supreme policy making body of the NTEU and is composed of delegates elected by and from NTEU members, numbering well over 100 delegates. The motion in question is thus binding on NTEU officers and is available in full on the NTEU website.

    If you are now employed in the Higher Education sector, please notify us so that we can adjust our records and ensure we are clear as to your ‘home’ Branch. This is important to ensure that you are able to vote in the relevant elections and can fully participate in the democratic decision making processes of the NTEU, as well as partaking of the benefits it provides to members.

    In solidarity,

    Margaret Lee

    Margaret Lee,
    Queensland Secretary
    National Tertiary Education Union
    First Floor, Room 3
    27 Cordelia Street
    South Brisbane Qld 4101

    Phone: (07) 3846 2355
    Fax: (07) 3846 5977
    Email: m.lee@qld.nteu.org.au

  4. Voting changes nothing! says:

    Dear Margaret,

    I am sure as a former lowly paid admin worker you would know how inaccurate records can be.

    I am referring to your comments- “According to our records you are a relatively new member, having worked at QUT, but our records show that you are currently not employed in the Higher Education sector.” and your support for Your rights at Work. How does it look a few years on after Gillard, Rudd and Shorten have trashed workers rights and made mockery of what it is to be union?

    One thing in yr comment is true, I am no longer employed in the tertiary sector, I was sacked by the QUT under an EBA negotiated by the NTEU. An NTEU industrial officer advised me it was best not to fight it. You rightly complain of lack of feedback from workers. When nearly every EBA contains similar clauses it is pretty hard to challenge the system, especially from a rank and file perspective. Yet we should, but also ask ourselves the question what is the point of the Enterprise Bargaining system if it saddles workers to the HR managers and to the industrial commission.

    Sure, as an individual, I am easy to brush off but what NTEU records do not show is that I was a member of a staff association or union ever since I left school in 1967. That’s 40 years member of a union. During my working life I always supported direct action against the employer, I never walked across a picket line or went to work when others were on strike. I fought for workers rights to organise during the street marches in Qld 1977-79 and was arrested many times for my troubles.

    In 1985 I was violently arrested on a picket line defending the jobs of other workers (during the 1985 SEQEB Dispute).

    I always challenged sell-outs by politically motivated union officials and supported the rank and file. I have marched on May Day in Brisbane since 1978, never missing a march, hail, rain or sick. That’s nearly 40 years.

    Yet where are workers rights at work now? With unions like ETU, SDA and CFMEU giving hard earned members fees to re-elect a labor party that takes donations from big developers. Supports a party whose leader reduces hourly rates for cleaners (bill shorten, sic), and makes it easy for bosses to sack workers.

    in solidarity,
    Ian Curr
    May 2016

    PS sorry it took so long to reply to your letter, somehow i missed it.

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