NTEU maintains conditions, but fight to beat casualisation needed

After a semester punctuated by short strikes at Western Sydney University (WSU), UTS and the University of Sydney, both WSU and the University of Sydney have agreed to new enterprise bargaining deals, while Charles Sturt University moves to industrial action, and University of New South Wales (UNSW) members are set to kick off their campaign.

With current negotiations happening in the wake of the cancellation of Murdoch University’s agreement, an anxious NTEU union leadership has been pushing to finalise deals. While most agreements signed so far have maintained the majority of existing conditions, this has been both at the expense of decent pay rises, and making inroads against the serious problems of casualisation and insecure employment in higher education.

The results at WSU were mixed. Following two successful stop works, management backed away from their attempt to introduce new teaching-focused positions. The union won the creation of 30 new teaching-research positions for casual staff, and the conversion of some existing entry positions to teaching-research roles. The pay rise of 2 per cent per annum, below inflation, accepts the low standard set elsewhere.

More could have been won, but university management successfully intimidated the union leadership out of imposing bans on results by taking them to the Fair Work Commission.

Meanwhile, after a high profile campaign around job security and a successful strike, management at UTS have now backed away from plans to get rid of Scholarly Teaching Fellow (STF) positions and have agreed to some small in-principle changes that would allow fixed term contract staff more rights to convert to permanent positions. But they have yet to make any significant offer for casual staff, or to back away from their attempt to abolish review committees for staff facing the sack.

A plan for another 24 hour strike was voted down at the last UTS members’ meeting, after some of the branch leadership argued it might disrupt the bargaining process. Yet it has been the actions of members that have pushed the university to back away from significant attacks. UTS staff are the lowest paid of any Sydney metropolitian university, and the university has the worst rate of casualisation.

With classes largely finished until next March, the momentum is moving towards settling an agreement. But it would be a mistake to do so without securing better pay and substantial agreements to improve casuals’ pay and introduce caps on casualisation. The university has clearly felt the pressure of a growing and confident union membership, so there is no advantage in rushing into a mediocre agreement. The next opportunity for the campaign is the university’s Info Day on 16 December, where the union will hold a protest focusing on job security.

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