WA uni’s bizarre argument against industrial action receives Fair Work approval

National Tertiary Education Union

Curtin University has questioned whether National Tertiary Education Union members understand what answering the phone means, in a bizarre attack on attempted industrial action. Curtin University challenged the NTEU’s application to hold a ballot on protected industrial action at the Fair Work Commission. The NTEU’s proposed questions to members included: “Do you authorise industrial action against your employer, separately, partially, concurrently and/or consecutively, in the form of a ban on responding to phone calls or emails?” The university’s lawyers used the Fair Work Commission hearing to cross-examine NTEU members about the definition of answering a phone call or emails. Fair Work Commission Deputy President Melanie Binet ruled against eight questions being put to NTEU members about potential industrial action. In her decision, Deputy President Binet said witnesses differed on their understanding of the ban on responding to phone calls or emails. “Some understood the ban to be limited to physically picking up the phone or selecting the reply function on an email but understood the ban to permit responding to a message left on voicemail when the phone went unanswered or replying to an email in separate chain,” the decision states. The NTEU has lodged an appeal in response to the decision. The Commission ruled against the eight questions because of a lack of clarity despite the fact almost identical wording has been allowed in 12 other protected ballots at universities across Australia this year. The Fair work decision allows two questions to be put to NTEU members in an Australian Electoral Commission-conducted ballot asking members if they support work stoppages of between five minutes and 24 hours, and indefinite stoppages of work. Attributable to NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes: “This decision shows just how broken Australia’s workplace laws are. “We aren’t even allowed to ask our members if they are in favour of taking basic industrial action including a ban on answering the phone or replying to emails. “For Curtin University to suggest our members – some of the most qualified people in the workforce – don’t understand the meaning of ‘a ban on answering the phone’ is bizarre. “Curtin University is more interested in playing word games with the industrial umpire than constructively negotiating with members who are simply asking for a fair pay rise and decent working conditions. “We need the Federal Government to remove ridiculous hurdles which stop workers deciding on whether to take industrial action – a fundamental freedom in any democracy. “Australia’s workplace laws have turned university managements into Goliath while staff become David in bureaucratic battles that shouldn’t even be before Fair Work. “We need a system that encourages enterprise bargaining and all that goes with it, not avenues for employers to block reasonable industrial action.”

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