The leadership of the NTEU both at a national and state level have struck a deal with the Vice-Chancellors that accepts significant cuts to conditions and pay. There needs to be a strong no vote rejecting this in the national electronic ballot of members to be held on 25 May.
The deal is being sold as a lifebuoy for “the most vulnerable” staff members, a so-called “Job Protection Framework” touted to save up to 12,000 jobs.
Staff are being told, “it takes solidarity to save jobs”, but by solidarity the NTEU executive actually means a pay cut of between 5 and 15 per cent for many permanent staff members. Even by their own calculations, thousands of jobs will still be lost with at least 21,000 full-time equivalent jobs at threat. Giving up our pay and conditions is not an act of solidarity, it merely accepts the logic that it should be workers who pay for this crisis, not the government or the bosses.
The agreement offers only dubious promises of consultation; there are no guarantees that jobs will be protected.
Alongside the pay cut, the framework cedes power to Vice-Chancellors, heads of school and school managers. For example, section 21of the National Framework’s “Heads of Agreement” document suggests that if management can show that an academic’s ability to perform research is impacted by COVID-19, they can allocate them additional teaching duties. This is a recipe for mass casual job losses.
Astonishingly, many university managements (including at Sydney Uni, UTS and ACU) are saying that the NTEU framework agreement goes too far in eroding staff jobs and conditions. In NSW even the CPSU, which represents some professional staff, has said it will “vigorously oppose it at every turn”, noting that the pay cuts would also apply to lower paid professional staff.
Even at universities where management has rejected the NTEU framework, staff will still be asked to take part in the national vote. A strong no vote nationally will be important, as any vote for the national agreement will weaken the possibility of fighting specific agreement variations on individual campuses subsequently. A successful variation anywhere will encourage all university bosses to seek similar changes to cut staff wages and enforce greater “flexibility”.
Even some rich universities are already lining up to take whatever they can get.
Every university has the ability to take out low interest loans to see themselves through this period. Instead, university managements are crying poor as they sack casual staff, vastly increase the work load of permanent staff members and attempt to slash our pay.
The University of Melbourne is already moving to cut courses and load up permanent staff with additional teaching in order to shed casual jobs. Yet the university has hundreds of millions of dollars in cash reserves and an enormous portfolio of investments and other assets.
Melbourne University management has already rejected the National Framework and indicated that they will seek their own variations to the enterprise agreement. The last few weeks have seen an onslaught of propaganda from the NTEU leadership encouraging members to accept variations that enshrine concessions, in the context of their own proposed framework. This has made it easier for university administrations to push for even worse changes.
We would be much better placed to fight the upcoming bosses’ variation at Melbourne University if instead the leadership had been preparing members for the serious fight we have on our hands.
Tragically, the NTEU executive is following in the wake of most of the union movement and offering concessions to the employers, rather than building an industrial and political fight. A more positive response has come from the NSW Teachers Federation which is opposing the threat by the state Liberal government to impose a wage freeze.
The NTEU should be mounting a campaign against the Morrison government to demand full government funding of the tertiary sector. The 21 May National Day of Action should be the first step in a concerted campaign to tell the federal government and university management that university workers will not pay for the latest crisis in tertiary education.
We have paid too much already. The tertiary sector was already a victim of neo-liberalism, suffering constant job-killing corporate restructures and rates of casualisation among the worst in the country. Universities are now seeking ways to use the COVID-19 crisis to push through even more drastic cuts and course restructuring.
The National Executive’s framework will make us weaker, not stronger. A number of branches have already voted to reject this approach of offering concessions including cuts to pay and conditions. We need to build on that. A strong no vote is the way to build union organisation: approximately 4000 members have joined the NTEU since the COVID-19 crisis hit. A No vote will send a strong message to the National Executive that members demand that they back a fight for jobs and funding.
Let’s fight for pay, conditions and every job
The consistent beacon of hope is the resistance of NTEU members to both management and the union leadership’s framework. In the opening throes of the COVID-19 crisis 100 casuals at the University of Melbourne rallied for pandemic leave and occupied the foyer outside the university’s COVID-19 task force office. They won guaranteed sick leave and isolation leave within a matter of days.
In the last few weeks, members’ meetings across the country have passed motions opposing concessions on pay and conditions, and calling for a fighting campaign for government funding. It is this kind of insurgent confidence and a willingness to fight that can steer us through these difficult times, not the national leadership’s framework.
Pressure from NTEU members forced the leadership to call a National Day of Action on 21 May. In Sydney and Melbourne, thanks to agitation from rank and file members, this will not be just another selfie action. There will be socially distant and safe public protests including car and bike convoys that all NTEU members should join if they are able.
The National Day of Action is an opportunity to build pressure on the Liberals to properly fund the shortfall and open up JobKeeper for university workers. And it is an opportunity to flex our muscles and build confidence, networks and organisation for the battle we are facing against our Vice-Chancellors and school managers.
We need to “Vote No” to the National Agreement and convince our colleagues to do the same. But to make the VCs and the Liberals pay for this crisis, we need to build broader and stronger mobilisations.
We are not powerless in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Managements everywhere are relying on the goodwill of staff to carry the extra burden of online classes and everything that goes with them. University managements and the government are vulnerable to political and industrial action. That’s the campaign that we need to build.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Call branch meetings to carry resolutions opposing the National Executive’s framework agreement
- Form local action groups to campaign to “Vote No” in the national e-vote on 25 May
- Carry resolutions to call on staff members to refuse extra work usually done by casuals
- Join the 21 May National Day of Action
- Prepare “Vote No” campaigns against any moves to vary agreements at individual universities