BY CHRISTOPHER PERKINS
WOLLONGONG — The year-long Illawarra TAFE library industrial dispute came to an end on November 1 with the signing of a dispute resolution agreement that restricts temporary staffing arrangements across the Illawarra Institute's 13 libraries to no more than 5% of total staffing hours, thus defeating management's attempt to extend casualisation throughout the library network.
The library unionists, members of the NSW Public Service Association (PSA), have been waging a determined fight since late last year against budget cuts, reductions in services and management's attempt to utilise natural attrition of staff numbers to substantially reduce and casualise the library work force.
Earlier in the campaign, the PSA members had been successful in forcing management to concede ground in relation to budget cuts. In August, the TAFE Teachers Association organised a student sit-in of the Dapto College library, defeating management's decree that the library's opening schedule be cut from five to three days per week, and that the librarian be transferred to another college.
Agreement on a dispute settlement document had been reached by management and the library unionists at a meeting on September 24, but TAFE Illawarra subsequently reneged on the agreement, going so far as to claim in the local media that no such agreement had been reached and that the meeting itself never took place. Management then placed a new suggested staffing level document on the table. The document set a staff level far below that which the September 24 agreement had specified.
Following this episode, the enraged library staff sharply escalated their industrial and public campaigning, reimposing bans and threatening strike action. Included in this offensive was a particularly aggressive anti-management email campaign, in response to which management threatened to remove email access to all staff across the Illawarra Institute's 13 libraries.
TAFE Illawarra then attempted to suppress the industrial campaign through the Industrial Relations Commission. This tactic failed when the commissioner decided to take a hands-off approach to the dispute, and thus management was forced back to the negotiating table.
Under the new agreement overall staffing levels have been cut by around one and a half jobs. However, these cuts are far less than than the levels management had been attempting to impose. The agreement's 5% cap on temporary staffing is an achievement the PSA library members are rightly proud of — the dispute showing that militant, determined rank and file controlled unionism can halt the onslaught of casualisation.
Wollongong College PSA delegate Chris Pickering and PSA organiser Felix Bronneberg are now preparing a more generalised, institute-wide, cross-union campaign for job permanency in 2002. They will be pointing to the precedent of the casualisation cap that has been set in the library dispute as a model to aim at, referring to it as the "95% rule".
From Green Left Weekly, November 14, 2001.
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