Sydney University staff gear up for strike ballot

On February 25 meetings of approximately 200 members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at the University of Sydney voted to seek a ballot authorising industrial action in our enterprise bargaining campaign. The ballot opens on March 27.Not before time. We lodged our claim in June last year well before our agreement ran out in October 2008. Only in December did the Vice-Chancellor agree to begin bargaining.
Since then we have had four meetings and not one clause of the agreement has been finalised.
This is the same Vice-Chancellor who made himself a laughing stock when he rushed out an email proclaiming that the University could not afford wage rises because it had lost money in the share market crash. This was refuted line by line by Bob Walker, Professor of Accounting, but many staff are understandably concerned about the effect of the recession.
The main emphasis of the bargaining claim is on rights and conditions at work. The special version of WorkChoices the Howard government forced on universities (known as the HEWRRs) limited the union’s ability to intervene while workloads increased and the numbers employed as casuals went up.
The first aim of our claim is win back basic rights to consultation and protection of jobs in a period of insecurity with demands about change management procedures, employment of casuals and workloads. The last matter we will negotiate is the wage claim—20 per cent over three years.
However the University of Sydney hardly need worry about the impact of the recession. This is a rich institution and it expects increased enrolments, especially in honours and post-graduate classes, as jobs for graduates decline.
In this context the VC’s offer of a 2 per cent pay increase in March is paltry, after a  real wage cut last year. Our annualised wage increase was 3.5 per cent; inflation was 3.7 per cent.
The task in front of us is winning the ballot—we must get a 50 per cent return of our 1800 members, and a majority to support industrial action. However this is an opportunity to mobilise our members, talk to all staff about their rights at work and why they need a strong union to defend their job security during a recession.
Leafleting, posters and YouTube ads, lunchtime stalls, meetings in each building and desk-knocks are planned to ensure we get a good return of the ballot and a vote for industrial action. This builds a sound foundation for taking the industrial action we will need to win our claim.
By Anne Picot
Member of Bargaining Campaign Committee,
University of Sydney


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