Disputes rage on at UNSW and Macquarie unis

The campaign for a decent agreement is continuing at UNSW after more than two years of negotiations.

About 40 staff were stood down for almost two months over the end of year break for imposing results bans. Generous financial support came from supporters around the country to help them maintain the bans, despite the loss of pay.

The bans have been lifted but staff are preparing for a rally outside the University Council meeting on February 21.

Despite 32 other universities agreeing to limit the use of fixed-term contracts, UNSW management has refused to budge on the issue, meaning many staff will remain in insecure employment where they are cycled from one fixed-term contract to the next.

Vice Chancellor Fred Hilmer wants “complete discretion” to maintain a contract workforce based on an unjustified assertion that future student enrolment levels are uncertain. As a destination of “first choice”, UNSW is well placed to weather enrolment downturns and, even if there was some fluctuation, he has failed to explain why all the associated “risks” should be borne by university workers and their families.

Similar issues also led to a union ban on transmitting results and subsequent stand downs at Macquarie Uni during December. According to the union, 68 staff were stood down at Macquarie before bans were lifted on December 22.

In addition to a similar refusal to place any limit on the use of fixed-term contacts, Macquarie is imposing an across the board cut of 7 per cent to teaching funds. The result is the loss of six jobs in the Faculty of Science.

Management at both universities have pursued a divide and rule strategy, striking an agreement with general staff despite the NTEU, which represents both academic and general staff, recommending a no vote.

The CPSU has played a disgraceful role—its officials undermined the industrial campaign by recommending general staff accept the sub-standard agreement.

Management and the CPSU campaigned together for acceptance of the agreement but, still, more than 40 per cent of staff at both campuses recognised a lemon when they saw it. At UNSW the NTEU challenged the agreement in FairWork Australia, on the grounds that it was worse than the relevant award.

FairWork ordered the university to amend two aspects of the agreement, but otherwise approved it. An appeal is pending.

Staff at Macquarie are set to strike in week two of semester and further action is also expected at UNSW.

Support from across the university sector is needed to win these disputes against two sets of aggressive anti-union managements.

James Supple


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