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NTEU Leading the Way: Indigenous Employment Gains in Tertiary Education

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has been instrumental in driving significant advancements in Indigenous employment within the tertiary education sector over the past two decades. A recent article in the Journal of Industrial Relations sheds light on the union's unique approach, highlighting its commitment to collective bargaining and the establishment of Indigenous-specific provisions in enterprise agreements.

NTEU Leading the Way: Indigenous Employment Gains in Tertiary Education
NTEU Leading the Way: Indigenous Employment Gains in Tertiary Education

In 2000, Indigenous employment in higher education stood at a mere 0.68% of the workforce. However, through the NTEU's concerted efforts, this figure has more than doubled, reaching 1.34% by 2020. While this progress is commendable, it falls short of achieving population parity, which stands at 3.1%. Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, a prominent academic and chair of the NTEU National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee, underscores the importance of placing Indigenous workplace issues at the forefront of bargaining.


Leroy-Dyer emphasizes the transformative power of collective bargaining in prioritizing labor market equality and fostering improved work environments for Indigenous peoples. However, historical marginalization has hindered the full realization of this potential. She notes that unions, including the NTEU, have often been complicit in the exclusion of Indigenous peoples from waged work—a legacy that must be acknowledged and addressed.


Central to the NTEU's approach is its commitment to Indigenous-specific bargaining. Since the late 1990s, the union has consistently advocated for the inclusion of Indigenous employment targets and other provisions in enterprise agreements. This proactive stance has resulted in tangible benefits for Indigenous workers, including cultural leave, language allowances, and requirements for Indigenous representation in leadership positions.


The NTEU's efforts have not been without challenges. Government policies, such as the Workplace Relations Act and the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements, have posed significant obstacles, limiting the union's ability to advocate effectively for Indigenous-friendly provisions. Despite these setbacks, the NTEU has persisted in its pursuit of equitable outcomes for Indigenous employees.


One of the hallmarks of the NTEU's approach is its unique union structure, which elevates the voices of Indigenous members. Through designated ATSI positions at various levels of the union hierarchy, Indigenous members have the opportunity to shape policy and practices directly. This inclusive framework ensures that Indigenous perspectives are central to the union's decision-making processes.


Looking ahead, the NTEU remains committed to advancing Indigenous employment within the tertiary education sector. With the majority of its agreements now containing Indigenous-specific provisions, the union is focused on addressing emerging challenges, such as cultural load—a concept that encompasses additional work performed by Indigenous staff related to their cultural identity.


In conclusion, the NTEU's pioneering efforts in Indigenous employment demonstrate the transformative potential of collective action and targeted advocacy within the union movement. As we celebrate these achievements, it is imperative that we continue to uphold the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our workplaces and beyond.

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