Ballarat Uni sued over AWAs

THE UNIVERSITY of Ballarat is facing charges from staff over issuing misleading information with regard to Australian Workplace Agreements in a bid to encourage workers to sign individual contracts

STAFF AT the University of Ballarat have lodged a class action against their employer for issuing misleading information in a bid to get staff to sign Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

Seven hundred academics and general staff at the university are seeking $7 million in damages in the Federal Court of Australia, as penalties of up to $10,000 per breach apply under the Workplace Relations Act.

Each breach takes place when misleading information regarding AWAs is provided, said Josh Bornstein, partner at law firm Maurice Blackburn Cashman, which is representing the staff.

According to Bornstein, the university was publishing information that said conditions would be safeguarded under AWAs being offered to members by managers.

“These staff are simply seeking justice under the present Workplace Relations Act, and believe that the university have knowingly hid relevant information from them about their future employment conditions,” he said.

The National Tertiary Education Union is also supporting staff in pursuing legal action.

Victorian division secretary, Matthew McGowan, said, “If the management want to offer AWAs, then the least they can do is be honest about it and make it very clear that the AWAs they are offering will undermine the conditions people currently enjoy under the enterprise agreement.”

However, the Vice Chancellor of Ballarat University, Professor Kerry Cox, said the “university is delighted that the first batch of AWAs have been signed off by the Office of the Employment Advocate. The university is now able to pass on the much deserved sustainable pay rise, with back pay, to staff.”

McGowan, however, said staff should not have to trade off important conditions of employment in order to receive back pay or future pay rises, “which is what the AWA seeks to do”.

The disadvantages for staff accepting the AWA, according to McGowan, include a loss of redundancy entitlements and access to the Industrial Relations Commission for settling disputes, as well as to appeal mechanisms within the university.

As a result, the University of Ballarat has now given an undertaking to the Federal Court that it will issue a clarifying statement to all university staff, effectively outlining the employment conditions that staff will lose if they sign an AWA.

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