National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members at the University of Sydney (USyd) voted on April 14 to strike for 48 hours on May 11–12. The union said the two-day action will be a decisive start to its fight for fairer working conditions.
USyd staff also decided to strike again on May 23 if no progress was made in negotiations on a new enterprise bargain with university management. They committed to escalate strike action throughout the year.
The industrial action asserts workers’ rights and push back against management’s restructures, job cuts, forced redundancies and the exploitation of casual staff.
A significant — 78% — turnout of about 2000 NTEU members at USyd participated in the secret ballot. Of these, 96% voted in favour of industrial action. Workplace laws severely limit workers’ rights to strike: striking is only legal during enterprise bargaining and a union must prove that a secret ballot of members has been taken.
The decision to strike comes after nearly a year of the NTEU and rank-and-file members campaigning for a better enterprise agreement. A democratic, internal discussion since last August has produced a log of claims including: an end to forced redundancies; 30 days gender affirmation leave; improved rights for professional staff to work from home; protection of academics’ right to their current research allocations; enforceable targets for First Nations employment; a fair pay increase; and an end to exploitative casualisation.
Striking is the only way to force management to even discuss the claims. It is doing all it can to quash them, including hiring a senior lawyer from Melbourne legal firm Clayton Utz to to lead its bargaining team.
Management could accept the claims, as the university has the funding. According to the NTEU’s supporting statement, despite management’s complaints of losing revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, enrolments and income has “held up well” as “a result of our [staff’s] hard work.”
The New South Wales Audit Office reported last June that the University of Sydney was in the strongest financial position of any university in NSW. University workers now have to maintain the campaign momentum, including by encouraging casual and fixed-term staff, who make up the majority of university workers, to join the NTEU so that they can participate in the pickets and achieve a better enterprise agreement.