Members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) from five Victorian universities took strike action on May 21.
NTEU members from the University of Melbourne, Monash University, Deakin University, RMIT, Swinburne University and Hawthorn Learning (bought by a private education provider, Navitas, from Melbourne University) took part.
Union ballots supported a rally and 24-hour stoppage to support the NTEU enterprise bargaining claim for manageable workloads, increased job security, a fair wages deal and other improvements to conditions.
Union members believed these conditions are linked to the quality of education delivered to students. The industrial action is the first stoppage in support of the bargaining claim after nearly 12 months of negotiations.
NTEU RMIT branch president Neil Robinson explained that workers served a log of claims in May 2008 and it took until October 2008 for the university management to start negotiations. They still haven't gotten very far.
"The key reason for us to go out on strike is to get the university to start negotiating more intensively and in good faith", he said.
The secret ballot at RMIT was supported by 70% of staff and also included two bans from May 22: an indefinite ban on processing student results and an indefinite ban on taking part in work planning processes.
Some 500 staff and students attended the rally outside the State Library of Victoria and where supported by solidarity contingents from Ballarat University, Victoria University and the Maritime Union of Australia. Ballarat University signed off an agreement in late 2008 so cannot take strike action.
Victoria University NTEU members voted not to take strike action now, since they are further along in negotiations following strikes in December 2008 when they faced plans to sack 270 staff.
They had to vote again to take strike action over three weeks in February after management stalled to get an effective negotiation process established.
Pickets were organised before the rally and a 200-strong contingent of staff and students marched down to the rally after picketing the main entrances to the university.
Speakers at the rally included NTEU Victorian division secretary Matthew McGowan; NTEU general secretary Graham
McCulloch; University of Melbourne Professor of Political Science Verity Burgmann; and Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) vice-president Tammi Jonas
Burgmann said increased managerialism in universities, the increase of administrative tasks for academics and the stress on staff all undermined the quality of education delivered.
McGowan spoke on the theme of the union's campaign around casuals: "We have people being paid less when they are teaching the next generation than they would be if they were stacking shelves at Coles.
"It would be to the union's collective shame if we did not do something about it in this round."