National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) voted on August 31 to take strike action on September 16 in support of their enterprise bargaining claims
The university administration has refused to accept that there is a need for a new agreement, even though the old one expired more than five months ago.
A ballot of members in August, supervised by the Australian Electoral Commission, returned an overwhelming response by NTEU members in favour of industrial action in pursuit of new enterprise agreements. Eighty-three percent supported a 24-hour stoppage.
Members discussed the timing of the stoppage at a special meeting on August 31. The meeting also welcomed the support of the UNSW Student Representative Council, which had voted the previous week to support any action held by staff.
The NTEU's enterprise bargaining team said UNSW management had made its contempt for bargaining with the union clear, in spite of its legal obligation to bargain in good faith under the Fair Work Act.
"The union has made it clear, time and again, it wants to push negotiations forward, and has made repeated requests to increase the time spent bargaining, but management has flatly refused", Susan Price, president of the UNSW branch of the NTEU, told Green Left Weekly.
"This has been going on for five months, and this lack of progress is why we were forced to apply to take protected industrial action."
Management's response to the announcement of the strike was to seek an injunction through Fair Work Australia (the former Australian Industrial Relations Commission) to try to stop the strike from going ahead, as well as try to stop activities planned by the union to publicise its concerns at the UNSW Open Day. The university failed to block these actions.
Not to be deterred, UNSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer (former boss of Fairfax Ltd) sent an email to all staff on September 4, requesting that anyone intending to take strike action notify management. The NTEU responded by advising members that management had no legal right to make such a request.
NTEU state secretary Genevieve Kelly told NTEU members on August 31 that several other universities were close to finalising new agreements. At the University of Sydney, management had signed a memorandum of understanding that included a 17% pay rise (18.3% cumulative).
"The threat of strike action at Sydney university helped focus the discussions there", Kelly said.
In spite of the progress at the University of Sydney, management there has tabled a raft of extra claims that have angered staff, and forced the NTEU to seek another ballot for industrial action on that campus.
Picket lines will begin on all gates at 6.30am on September 16. Staff at the UNSW campus at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra will also stop work for 24 hours that day, after a meeting on September 2 also endorsed the action.
Members also resolved to promote their claims and the union's policy campaign at the UNSW Courses and Careers Day on September 5.
For more information, or to help out with the campaign, please contact the NTEU UNSW branch on (02) 9385 2479.