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May 24, 2024

A week of action for Australian universities

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The National Tertiary Education Union today begins a week of action against what they say is wage theft, casual employment, stagnant wages and chronic underfunding.

The National Tertiary Education Union says a wave of industrial activism and protest will ripple across every campus in the country as furious university workers push back against wage theft, casual employment, stagnant wages and chronic underfunding.

The action will begins today and reach a crescendo on Wednesday, when thousands of workers from Monash, Melbourne, Deakin and other campuses walk off the job to converge on the Victorian Trades Hall.

Approximately three in ten university jobs are permanent. But the NTEU is fighting back, winning ‘decasualisation’ clauses at Western Sydney University, Australian Catholic University and University of Technology Sydney in the last six months.

A major decasualisation clause

And at the University of Sydney, a major decasualisation clause is about to be inked, converting 330 casual positions to permanent.

NTEU National President, Dr Alison Barnes said the national week of action was designed to insert decasualisation provisions in the enterprise bargaining agreements of every Australian university.

‘For too long, Australian universities have allowed casualisation and its toxic twin, wage theft, to flourish. We are determined to stamp it out,’ says Dr Barnes. ‘We have won decasualisation clauses at three universities and the coming agreement to make 330 casuals permanent at Sydney University adds significant momentum.

Giving workers rights, security and stability

Dr Barnes says the union is actively bargaining at 24 universities and intends to give thousands of workers the rights, security and stability that comes with permanent employment. ‘Everyone who works regularly deserves to be able to plan for basic life events like illness, holidays or buying a home.’

A wage theft report released by the NTEU in February showed universities across the nation have been required to pay back more than $80 million in wages stolen overwhelmingly from casual workers. Melbourne University was easily the worst offender, paying back almost $32 million.

Despite rampant wage theft, many universities are still conspiring to suppress wages. A leaked strategy road map from The Australian Higher Education Industrial Association (AHEIA – the employers’ lobby) recently revealed a concerted plan to delaying wage bargaining to avoid offering staff fair pay and appropriate conditions. In some cases, senior university management are offering cash bonuses to staff as a distraction from real pay cuts.

Workforce at breaking point

NTEU General Secretary, Dr Damien Cahill, said the workforce was at breaking point. ‘Thousands of university workers will walk off the job or take part in protests, not because they want to, but because they have to,’ said Dr Cahill.

‘Tertiary education is one of Australia’s biggest export earners. Universities are critical to whether we can deal with big challenges such as climate change, the next pandemic or the skills of our workforce. Yet we are constantly devalued and treated as a budget line item expenditure.

‘The university workforce is furious and up for a fight.’


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