BY CHRISTOPHER PERKINS
WOLLONGONG — Illawarra TAFE institute management has upped the ante in its attempt to halt its library staff's stubborn fight against job cuts by threatening to dock the pay of union members who refuse to work evening shifts.
In an escalation to the long-running dispute, which originated nearly a year ago, management directed Public Service Association (PSA) members on July 27 to lift their bans on evening shifts across the institute's dozen libraries or face punitive deductions from their pay packets.
Several library managers, who are union members, have been approached by the Illawarra TAFE management on some of the non-metropolitan campuses in an attempt to intimidate union members into extending library opening hours in contravention of the union ban.
In response, the library unionists have shifted from flexitime arrangements to working standard gazetted TAFE hours which means that library opening hours will be reduced even further. In addition, a motion was passed at a library staff union meeting on July 24 to take strike action for 24 hours on August 2.
On the same day as the strike, union members and their supporters will stage two demonstrations — one outside the TAFE management institute office during the day and another outside the prestigious annual Illawarra TAFE student awards night to be held at the Novotel Northbeach hotel. NSW education minister John Aquilina will be in attendance and the event is expected to be heavily covered by local news media. The evening demonstration will kick off around 6pm.
TAFE Teachers' Association members are watching the dispute closely as the stakes are rising. This dispute revolves around the refusal of management to fill a whole series of vacant positions across the Illawarra institute's libraries. It is not just about job cutting, but also about the extension of casualisation in the public sector.
Illawarra's library unionists remain steadfast in their resolve to resist the cuts, which will result in extensive reductions in opening hours, increased workloads and degradation of library services.
If TAFE Illawarra management carry through their pay deduction threat, the dispute may widen to include the rest of the institute's PSA members, plus workers covered by other unions across the institute. The South Coast Labour Council has been kept up to date on the progress of the dispute and if required the PSA is certain to request its direct assistance.