NSW universities move towards strikes

Workers at three NSW universities are moving closer to strike action in the face of their managements’ attacks on working conditions and pay.

Workers at Sydney University, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Western Sydney University (WSU) are all going through enterprise bargaining negotiations.

The NTEU has already balloted members for industrial action at Sydney Uni, succeeding in clearing the hurdle of 50 per cent of ballots returned. With a planned restructure looming after negotiations, one of the key issues has been job security. Management has refused to accept a “no forced redundancies” clause in the agreement that would guarantee people redeployment in comparable positions instead of being sacked.

There have been some concessions won such as including workers from one of the labour hire companies in the agreement for the first time and rebuffing plans to stop advertising professional roles internally. Management had also initially wanted to scrap the 40-40-20 rule that gives academics time to do research but have backed away from that after the union decided to begin the strike ballot.

But the bosses are still pushing to remove caps on teaching-only roles. And they want to remove Scholarly Teaching Fellow (STF) positions, which are a pathway out of casual jobs. Management is also refusing to provide sick leave and other forms of leave to casuals. And they are yet to make an offer on pay. Union members are meeting on 17 August to develop a plan for industrial action.

At WSU workers voted 99.5 per cent in favour of industrial action and have already taken a one-hour stoppage for meetings. The bosses want to strip away limits for workloads and are proposing a 1.3 per cent pay rise, a real wage cut taking into account inflation. They are also trying to get rid of STF positions. Professional staff face losing their flex leave entitlements. There is also a restructure of admin, including a pay downgrade for many staff.

At UTS staff are fighting for transition into permanency for fixed term and casual workers and payment for all work for casuals, as well as joint consultation committees and parental leave for all staff. If these demands are not met in two weeks they too will ballot for action.

These struggles will have to link up with the fight against the Turnbull government’s cuts of $1.1 billion from higher education funding. The university bosses will attempt to use this as an excuse to go even harder slashing the pay and conditions of workers.

By Miro Sandev

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