Western Sydney University (WSU) staff went on strike on September 20 over stalled negotiations on their pay and working conditions. The half-day strike and rally, called by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), took place at WSU’s Parramatta City Campus.
University management has delayed the bargaining process by unilaterally removing core entitlements from the NTEU’s enterprise agreements, while resisting members’ key demands. Staff at WSU say they are concerned about looming job cuts, the downgrading of classifications, increased workloads and job insecurity.
The NTEU said that the university is operating at a surplus and can afford to invest in its staff. WSU has come under fire in recent years over management spending sprees, including more than $40 million on a rebranding exercise for the university in 2016, a pay rise for senior executives of between 5-8% and the construction of a number of new high rise buildings.
Staff is demanding a pay rise above the university’s current paltry offer (which amounts to a 1.8% rise in real terms from the end of the current agreement to the end of the new agreement), stronger job security provisions, genuine consultation on workplace changes, better protection of professional staff workloads and conditions, and active measures to resist further casualisation.
More than 50% of academic work at WSU is currently done by casual staff who lack job security. This has led to unsustainable staff workloads and a lower quality experience for students.
Speakers on the day pointed out the contradictions of the for-profit education model in which overpaid managers exclude workers from decision-making processes and impose pay cuts on underpaid staff. They accused the university management of putting profits before job security, and brand prestige before education and research quality.
Conditions such as bloated class sizes and unpaid marking hours do not only affect the academic staff, they also mean that students do not have adequate access to tutors.
NTEU divsion secretary Michael Thomson said: “Union is the key! If we stand together and all united, we are going to win a good agreement for job security, decent pay and a fair say!”
The WSU Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance club joined the strikers to stand in solidarity with our tutors, lecturers and supervisors and to say that staff working conditions are also student learning conditions.
We want to see university management take the demands of the strikers seriously, and come to the table with a real offer that does not sell our educators short and compromise our education.
[Daniele Fulvi is a Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance member and a member of the WSU Bankstown Student Council.]