Voting YES For PABO at Deakin

Deakin NTEU Members will soon receive a ballot that allows them to vote on if Deakin NTEU Members should take protected action, and what protected action they should be allowed to take. This is called a PABO, or a Protected Action Ballot Order. I thought I’d write a post on why we need to strongly support this, and what it means.

The Process

This is based on what I’ve observed and learned. It may not be 100% correct. I am not a lawyer or Industrial Officer.

Thanks to corporate influence on our political system, and the wave of neoliberalism we’ve been living in for the last 40-50 years, industrial laws have declined so far in this country that unions are not allowed to strike unless it’s a specific time (EA bargaining) and after jumping through various annoying hoops (described below). In addition, unions can’t have solidarity strikes anymore, further weakening worker power. Finally, Fair Work has made it so that unions can only take actions that they have specifically told them about, which Fair Work will look at and possibly reject. Breaking any of those rules leads to the unions getting tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and possibly some for the individuals as well. Because of this, we have PABOs. It’s worth repeating that this was deliberately done by the major parties in concert with business. The politicians and the businesses are all doing great while the workers (and non-workers)… not so much.

To start the process, unions and the university must make concerted efforts to genuinely negotiate. The NTEU has done this, but Deakin has stonewalled and given scraps, ignoring the bigger issues. You can see this and this blog post for more details on that.

To be allowed to strike or do any sort of industrial action, we must first have a member meeting where over 50% of the attending members agree to have the union lodge with Fair Work saying it wants to run a protected action ballot. The NTEU then lodges with Fair Work to hold the Protected Action Ballot. Fair Work generally agrees with this if the members voted for it. This is the point we are at now, as of 20/03/2023. Assuming Fair Work approves the ballot request, they hand over control of the election to the AEC, who runs the Protected Action Ballot process.

When the ballot starts, all members will be emailed with a link to an online voting form. They then have a set amount of time (two weeks, I believe) to vote. This allows the members to vote on each individual industrial action listed in the application. It’s important to note that this vote is for allowing the union to possibly take the action. It is not signing you up personally to take that specific action. The union is aware not everyone is able to (or feels comfortable) taking every action, but the more actions we get voted up, the more weapons we’ll have in our arsenal when it comes to acting.

For a PABO action to be successful, 50% of the union members need to vote “YES” for action on the voting form. Also 50% of the members need to vote, overall.

I believe the university could then lodge with Fair Work saying that industrial action will cause undue stress on the company, etc, etc. Normal corporate bullshit.

If the PABO actions are successful, they’re available for the union to use during this bargaining round.

The Actions

The actions start from the very small (putting notes into email signatures) to the very large (fully striking). There are many options in-between there. Every approved PABO action means that you can freely take it without the university being able to take adverse action against you for it. If you strike, they are legally allowed to not pay you for the time you were striking, but they can’t penalise you for striking. If you stop taking library late fees as part of an industrial action, you can’t be punished for that. This is our opportunity.

No members are required to take any of the approved actions themselves, but it’s important to note that the more people we have taking each action, the stronger we are. That strength will be apparent to the university and our fellow staff. Also, the stronger we are from the start, the faster we can hopefully resolve the bargaining, and with better results for everyone.

Some of the actions may impact students. You will see them on the ballot. I understand people that have reservations about impacting the (already underserved due to Deakin management) students, and I sympathise with it. My view is that we’re trying to stop an even bigger problem within Deakin, and the temporary measures will lead to greater long-term experience for both the staff and students. Even if you are personally against actions on the list, I still encourage you to vote YES. Others in the university may be able to be in a better position to do it, and discouraging some methods tells management we have a line we won’t cross. If management from the last 3-4 years is any indication, they will use that to their advantage and exploit us. They have previously, they’re doing it now, and they’ll continue to do it if we let them.

This is the time we can make our views known and not suffer a penalty. Deakin management has spent years abusing us (more below), and it’s our time to make sure they cannot take advantage of us in the future. With Iain being hired for another five years, it seems they have more disruption on the table. This is our chance to get provisions put into the new EA. One of the big ones related to this is “staff can only go through one restructure (major workplace change) during each EA period”. Deakin management hates this idea for some reason. We need to fight for our protection and survival.

The Reasons

I’m going to go through how Deakin has treated us since COVID started, but even before that time, there have been issues. Particularly, people were exploited and overworked/underpaid, WAMs were rubbish, and restructures were happening before COVID. None of that has improved.

The entire time Deakin has cried poor, and been so dishonest to make up wild scenarios where they’ll lose money (that, surprise surprise, don’t happen), as well as showing profits as “red” on a balance sheet in town halls (red is traditionally the colour for losses). They know they’re making money while they destroy the staff. They just don’t care.. they’re making money.

Talk to any staff member and you’ll find I’m not lying about the above. Deakin is hurting and management’s solution seems to be trying to squeeze more blood out of the staff. During this whole time (seriously, from April 2020) they’ve been planning on people going back into the office, and they’re doing it in unsafe and inconsistent ways. Suddenly the staff that have worked from home for the last few years, successfully, can’t work from home anymore. There is more information here. All of this is unacceptable, and this is our chance to fix it.

It may be a common phrase, but Deakin only runs on the good will of the staff. That’s how Iain gets his ~ $1 million/year salary.  It’s how Deakin exec and councillors sit on $200-300k+/year (before bonuses). It’s how Deakin gets its good reputation with students, its opportunities in other countries, its opportunities in research. The staff. For the last few years, the staff has been bending over backwards helping Deakin keep running. Long/extra hours, working while trying to take care of kids, working without having a proper workspace at home. Deakin staff supported Deakin and helped it grow, despite management continually abusing us and cutting down our workmates. They are exploiting the staff and expect the staff’s care for the students will let them get away with it. Before COVID, depending on where you were, this was the norm, just not as severely. Deakin has always depended on staff working extra hours. They have always depended on staff going above and beyond for their students, but the last few years, they’ve turned it up to 11. With very little thanks or compensation, and no sign of reducing workloads. This is why we’re fighting.

I linked some blog posts above, but you can look at the union reports from bargaining meetings on the Deakin NTEU website. Videos are made after each meeting giving an update, and updates five and six are relevant to how Deakin is ignoring our requests. This happens to align with the strategy put forth by the extremely terrible Australian Higher Education Industrial Association (AHEIA). They encourage delaying, ignoring, and going for non-union ballots to staff to see if they’ll accept a meagre EA. In a couple smaller universities these ballots have gotten up, but by and large they’re being rejected. This is being proven the right move by the benefits the NTEU-negotiated EAs are giving employees for the next few years.

Deakin is a great university. It’s still a great university for the students, but it’s currently hurting, and management seems to have largely ignored the problem, calling any issue raised an “isolated incident” or “a single rogue manager”. This is clearly not the case, but they’re apparently not paid to take responsibility for their actions. Only push forward and stick their head in the sand when told it’s not working. It’s no wonder management scores so poorly on Pulse Surveys.

We can make changes (that Deakin can EASILY afford) that give the staff (full time, fixed term, casual/sessional) a much better quality of life. It’s deserved, and it’s up to the union and Deakin staff to do it, because God knows no one else will.