Victorian universities can strike for a better deal

Members of the National Tertiary Education Union are taking action for new union collective agreements at all eight Victorian universities, but the campaign hangs in the balance as Solidarity goes to press.

There have been strikes at Monash (three hours) and RMIT (two hours), plus bans on the reporting of semester one exam results.

At RMIT, members staged an angry march around the central Melbourne campus on 14 August, with a rally at the smaller Bundoora campus, too. Staff at Melbourne and La Trobe universities protested at their Open Days on 18 August.

And members from across the state joined the national day of action called by the NTEU and the National Union of Students in central Melbourne on 20 August— with Melbourne and RMIT striking for half a day.

But no branch has yet broken through to get an agreement on the crucial issues: pay, a cap on teaching hours, career pathways for sessional (casual) academics, and better conditions for professional staff.

Nationally, agreements have been reached only at Curtin and Edith Cowan (WA) and Central Queensland. Members there have scored 4 per cent a year pay rises, but Curtin signed the deal only to immediately call a job spill.

Victorian managements have now used Labor’s Fair Work Act to lift the ban on reporting exam results. In some cases, the Fair Work Commission has suspended all industrial action—at Monash, for example, for two weeks.

It’s possible that managements are waiting for the outcome of the election before reaching deals, although there’s no indication yet that the Liberals will be cutting the sector any harder than Labor has already done.

The more likely reason for the delay in Victoria is that managements are holding out to see the outcome of the aggressive campaigns by their counterparts at Sydney University and the Australian National University in Canberra.

The NTEU can reinstate results bans for semester two, but they won’t be relevant until after the examination season in November—effectively making the tactic irrelevant.

There is now only one way forward. Activists need to argue for an initial round of one-day strikes and picket lines across all campuses, and explain to members that further escalation may be necessary.
If a stronger branch can break through, the other Victorian universities are likely fall into line, which will also help NTEU members under the cosh in Sydney and Canberra.

By an NTEU member


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