Early in the morning on the very first day of September, staff at the University of Queensland, members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), kicked off their “Striketember” with a short strike and protest at the main entrance to the university.
The NTEU members are angry about the lack of progress with their enterprise bargaining negotiations and wore bright red union T-shirts and held up signs to the traffic saying, “Every uni worker deserves: a secure job, a safe workplace, a real pay rise.”
At the end of the protest there was an impromptu and lively march across the campus to the university administration building.
Paul, one of the striking members, who had been “tutoring as a casual for eight years”, spoke about the importance of the demand for job security and for a real pay rise.
“I don’t want to keep working and supporting my kids and having to think every summer about either getting another job or trying to save up enough during the teaching period to get me through the summer—it is getting extremely difficult to do that and it is getting more and more difficult with cost-of-living increases.”
The University of Queensland is crying poor but is one of the richest universities in the country. Last year it had an operating profit of $342 million and it recently bought two properties in the CBD, one being the heritage listed former bank building, 308 Queens Street.
According to Jeff, another striking worker, these purchases are more about prestige than “teaching, learning or research”. Seventy per cent of the staff are casual and staff are claiming they created this fabulous wealth and now they “want it back” and they “want it invested in them”.
Students and some community members joined the protest. Paul talked about their common interests, saying, “There is no divide between the interest of students and teaching staff … our teaching conditions are literally your learning conditions.”
He also situated the staff’s struggle in the broader context, “This is just one struggle, it is happening in other universities, in other states, it’s happening in health, in education, in public transport—we are part of a bigger fight.”
“Striketember”, which involves ten types of industrial actions including sit-ins, protests, walk-outs and strikes, was voted for overwhelmingly by the NTEU members.
If you’re a UQ worker and are sick of low pay and casual work, now’s the time to join the union and get involved in your local branch.
By Mark Gillespie