Swinburne caught red handed over moves to cut staff conditions – college ordered to pay costs

14 June 2013
Melbourne's Swinburne University's attempt to slash staff working conditions by introducing a secret non-union agreement at its subsidiary, Swinburne College Pty Ltd, has failed.

The university had attempted to certify a non-union agreement with a small group of newly appointed staff at its subsidiary Swinburne College, which offers courses in Foundation Studies, Pathways, and English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students.

That move was challenged by the National Tertiary Education Union in conjunction with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, and this week Swinburne College was ordered by Fair Work Commission Deputy President Smith to pay $33,655 in legal costs of the NTEU.

Kamal Farouque, employment law principal at Maurice Blackburn, said it's unprecedented for an employer to pay costs in this situation, and it only occurs when the Commission finds that the application made was made vexatiously or had no reasonable chance of success.

"Swinburne was on shaky legal ground in seeking to have this sub-standard agreement certified," Mr Farouque said.

"This scheme was devised to make an agreement with four unrepresented staff to avoid bargaining with about 100 other employees and the union.

"This kind of chicanery is something I would expect to see in a dodgy small business operator trying to bypass the protections in the Fair Work Act, not a self-proclaimed internationally renowned higher education establishment like Swinburne."

Josh Cullinan, NTEU industrial officer, said Swinburne College withdrew its application to have the agreement certified at the 11th hour.

"The first our members heard of the secret agreement was when it was lodged in the Fair Work Commission, but we weren't going to stand idly by and let wages be slashed and workloads massively increased," Mr Cullinan said.

"Whilst we forced the university to bin this attack on members, the man responsible has been promoted. Something's rotten at Swinburne and we are determined to stop the rot. We call on the Vice-Chancellor to give a full explanation of how this has happened."

Practice Areas: