On September 13, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members took strike action against Sydney University management’s refusal to negotiate a pay rise, shift casual staff to full-time or guarantee jobs in an amalgamation ‘Strategic Plan’ push, which has seen the destruction of Sydney College of the Arts.
In a letter to all students, NTEU University of Sydney Branch President Kurt Iveson summarised the aims of the strike. He said: “Our strike is about putting an end to discrimination against casually employed staff members in sick-leave and superannuation and getting management to commit to redeploying staff whose positions are made redundant. It is about preserving the vital teaching-research nexus, so the people who lecture you are active researchers in their fields — management wants to employ over 200 people with no time to do research. We are striking for a salary-offer that at least keeps pace with inflation — management want to give us a real wage cut.”
Out of a total cohort of 7000 staff, about one-third are employed casually. The Casual Network, an organisation of Sydney University’s casual staff, held a “Sick Day” action on September 7 to highlight issues facing casual staff.
In a statement, the Casual Network said: “Today we are sick of having such poor job security, we are sick of having no parental or sick leave, we are sick of having insufficient resources to provide you with the quality education you deserve. If management insists on hiring casuals to do half of teaching here, then they should give us sick leave, parental leave and the superannuation we need to plan our lives.”
A casual staff member, anonymous due to fear of retribution, told Green Left Weekly: “I have been casually employed here for three years. It leads to a lot of anxiety as we are living in one of most expensive cities in the world. We are trying to provide good academic services, but we are not being looked after. I don't know if I will be working next year or next week. Casualisation is a scrooge. It is bad for civilisation, but it is everywhere.”
NTEU University of Sydney branch Vice-President Damien Cahill told Green Left Weekly: “The university relies upon casual staff — they carry out 50% of the face-to-face teaching with students and 20% of all work done on this campus. Yet they don't enjoy the same rights as other staff.
“We have had some wins — including that casual staff are paid for all work that is done. We have also had an agreement to improve casual rights to convert to better work options.
“But we need to win the right for casuals to have sick pay and superannuation as well as maternity and paternity pay.”
The NTEU organised strike action at Sydney University’s Open Day on August 26. About 300 staff and students picketed university entrances and handed out leaflets to thousands of prospective students.
The second strike action, on September 13, will be a 24-hour strike. Cahill said: “We have to take this action because management are so dependent on exploiting casual labour there is no way they will give us these rights.
“We have tried just asking, but that did not work. We have to withdraw labour to exert pressure.”
In an attempt to undermine the union’s negotiations, on September 4 university management sent an online poll to all staff members (union and non-union) asking them to vote Yes if they agreed with the terms they were offering in the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).
Cahill said: “That poll was an outrageous attempt by university management to undermine the union and pave the way for non-union ballot. It was no coincident that is came on the back of Fair Work Australia’s decision to allow Murdoch University to terminate their EBA.
“We know the poll took place after a meeting between heads of university and Simon Birmingham, the Federal Minister for Education and Training. This was a clear attempt to smash the union and we defeated it. 61% said No to management’s proposal to have non-union ballot.”
Pickets of staff and students will be established around Sydney University on Wednesday, September 13 from 7am till 2pm. A rally will be held at 1pm at Eastern Avenue, City Road, Camperdown.