NTEU at UNSW gears up for strike action

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members at UNSW have voted to stage a four hour strike on 20 October if management does not commit to a fair workplace agreement.

The strike is planned to coincide with a meeting of the University Senate.

Their Protected Action Ballot, returned on 5 September, saw members overwhelmingly support all forms of industrial action, including rolling strikes.

The union is fighting for a range of improved conditions, including a better pay offer, better bullying protection, stronger job security for fixed term, casual and contract research staff, and better regulated workloads.

They are also pushing to reduce the service time—down from the current stretch of five years—that is required before staff have access to 36 weeks paid parental leave.

Key to the dispute is the NTEU’s determination not to let management divide and rule, by leaving professional staff (general staff) behind.

Many months of bargaining forced management to put forward some offers to improve academic staff conditions for contract research staff, parental leave, performance management and rights to request flexible work. But the NTEU made clear that they are “of course, calling for these improved rights and protections to flow on to Professional staff”.

The divide and conquer strategy of management was made explicit when the union finally lodged its intention with the Fair Work Commission to carry out a Protected Ballot Action, and UNSW management opposed the application on the basis that the NTEU called for a single academic-professional staff ballot.

Thankfully, management had its application thrown out, and the ballot went ahead.

The NTEU have put in their log of claims that they want a single academic-professional staff agreement. This is welcome news, and all the more important after the difficulties for the NTEU in negotiating two separate agreements at UTS (see Solidarity #70).

The importance of united action is all the more obvious while the Abbott-Liberal government seeks to push through its vicious higher-education reforms, which will undoubtedly lead to more attacks on staff jobs and conditions as competition in the university sector intensifies.

If staff at UNSW win a single academic-professional agreement with improved conditions for all, that can lead the way for the NTEU to push for united agreements around the country.

By Erima Dall

Magazine

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