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Victoria Uni - No Strike but tension lingers

VICTORIA University of Technology narrowly averted a 48-hour strike yesterday but discontent among staff remains high.

University administration was at loggerheads with the union after conflicting statements were issued late yesterday.

Vice-chancellor Elizabeth Harman contradicted statements from National Tertiary Education Union VUT branch president James Doughney and general secretary Grahame McCullough that an agreement had been reached for a 22 per cent pay rise to June 2008.

"Despite these statements, no agreement has been reached," she said. "The university has made no new offer to the union. Both parties have been negotiating on an agreement through to June 2006. At this stage this is unchanged.

"The action is prejudicial to future negotiations."

Professor Harman said the university would continue to consider its position "and looked forward to resuming discussions after Easter". Dr Doughney said staff had been concerned about proposed faculty restructures, job losses, planned changes to the academic board and what they saw as a lack of progress in enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations.

He said there was unrest among members about a deterioration in education services and worsening staff conditions at the university.

The union feared that VUT did not want to settle a three-year agreement because management wanted an opportunity to "attack employment conditions as soon as possible after the Howard Government's changes to industrial laws come into effect after July1".

Professor Harman said she was delighted the strike had been averted. "This is good news for our students; however, many students will still be disrupted because of the very late withdrawal of the strike action," she said.

One point that staff and management at VUT are agreed on is the uncertainty the university faces in an era of change.

"The Nelson reforms have made our future uncertain," Professor Harman said.

"We need to protect our future viability and sustainability as a teaching and research institution." Dr Doughney said staff had been feeling uncertain about their future because of the Nelson reforms and the university's refusal to sign an EBA to 2008.

"We are concerned that under [federal Education Minister Brendan] Nelson, this university's income will be reduced and we are desperately concerned that the Nelson plans will see VUT becoming a teaching-only institution," Dr Doughney said.

"The people of the western region here in Victoria fought long and hard to get a real university."

He also raised concerns about the university's decision to replace its academic board.

The university's governing council last year voted to merge the academic and TAFE boards into a smaller, 35-member education board, but critics say the move would turn it into little more than a training institution.

Industrial action is also on the cards at Charles Sturt University because of staff concerns about job security, pay, and staff workloads. Staff at Wagga, Albury and Bathurst will take stop-work action today.

SOURCE : The Australian

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