On July 18, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) administration was forced to reinstate 80 staff members and start two weeks of intensive bargaining. As a result, UNSW union members voted to lift a ban on releasing student results on July 23.
The UNSW branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) imposed the ban from June 30 in response to management delaying bargaining for 16 months over union demands for improved job security, pay and other conditions.
Management responded to the bans by standing down 80 staff, a move that has led to more support for staff from within and outside the union.
On July 20, the UNSW Student Representative Council organised a vibrant and well-attended rally in support of staff and quality education. Speakers included NSW Greens MP John Kaye and representatives of a number of student clubs and supporting organisations.
Hundreds of current and former students have also joined Facebook groups supporting the NTEU, such as “UNSW Law Students Support Our Lecturers” and “UNSW Arts and Social Science Faculty Students Support Their Lecturers”.
More than 160 law students sent an open letter to university vice chancellor Fred Hilmer opposing the standing down of staff and offering their “unqualified support to the lecturers who are participating in legally protected industrial action”.
The letter expressed understanding for staff concerns over “job security, rates of pay, paid parental leave and Indigenous employment targets”.
UNSW NTEU members and other supporters dug deep to contribute to a fighting fund to financially support members that had been stood down, raising close to $40,000 in two weeks.
Faced with the prospect of staff defying stand down orders and giving their classes without pay and out on the grass, UNSW management reinstated them on full pay as of July 18, the first day of semester.
UNSW management has also now agreed to an intensive bargaining period over the next two weeks.
A key sticking point continues to be the question of fixed-term contracts and casuals, on which Hilmer is refusing to budge.
Federal government funding is now a lower percentage of university revenue, and Hilmer is trying to make staff and students carry more of the financial burden through greater labour flexibility.
Almost all other universities have agreed to the NTEU’s proposal to restore limits on the use of fixed contracts and casuals, which deny employees job security.
The number of fixed-term contracts at UNSW has increased by 36% in the past four years. A much higher percentage of new female staff have been placed on such contracts.
UNSW NTEU branch president Susan Price told Green Left Weekly that the union is very concerned about this development.
“The worrying gender gap between the appointment rates for women and the rates for men on fixed-term contracts means that deregulation has had an adverse impact on the job security of women at UNSW”, she said.
Price also told GLW that university management failed to respond to a July 20 proposal from the union setting out terms under which bans could be lifted immediately.
“Given management’s failure to respond, members resolved to lift bans as of July 26, but have not ruled out further industrial action if insufficient progress is made on the union’s key claims”.
The meeting also passed a resolution in support of staff stood down at Victoria University as part of their ongoing dispute with university management over pay, staff to student ratios and better workloads, among other issues.