The Fair Work Commission will today consider Murdoch University’s bid to terminate a pay deal in favour of an award that would allow it to slash staff wages by up to 40 per cent.
Protesters are expected to rally outside the hearing over the measure that would affect more than 3000 academic and administration staff.
While Murdoch claims it will not change staff pay for at least six months, FWC approval would give the university the legal right to immediately reduce pay by as much as 29 per cent to 39 per cent for more than 3000 staff.
Griffin Coal workers lost a similar amount last year when their employer Lanco Infratech won the right to terminate their agreement and put them on the black coal award.
The university claims it has had to seek the bold measure in response to a year of failed negotiations with the National Tertiary Education Union, as well as reduced government funding and increased competition between universities.
NTEU State secretary Gabe Gooding said employers traditionally sought to terminate agreements to bolster their power at the negotiating table.
“It starts bargaining from a lower base and it puts pressure on workers to accept a deal that they might not otherwise have accepted,” she said.
“The union generally considers this to be an employer tactic.”
A major sticking point in negotiations was over pay. The union is seeking 6.5 per cent over four years, but the university is offering 3 per cent over the same time.
Staff were also concerned at proposed changes to the definitions and processes concerning misconduct, claiming it may curb academic freedom.
Ms Gooding said the proposed broadening of the definition, to include anything that threatened the reputation of the university, had led to fears staff would have limited ability to comment on controversial issues.
Murdoch’s director people and culture, Michelle Narustrang, said the university sought termination because the enterprise agreement was overly complex and an administrative burden.
The university would guarantee key conditions for six months if it won its bid.
“After a year of negotiating and not being able to get a satisfactory outcome, the termination of the agreement is going to reset negotiations on a clear footing,” she said. “Murdoch is a responsible employer.
“We have the best interests of our university, our students and our staff and we want to retain good staff.”