Workers at Newcastle University (UoN) stop work for 24 hours tomorrow due to poor wages and working conditions. This is the first strike since 2018 at the university, in the industrial city north of Sydney.
The National Union of Higher Education (NTEU), which brings together the staff, is looking for a new company agreement with the management of the university. The old deal expired a year ago, in September 2021.
The ruling was voted on at a meeting of members on September 8. This followed a protected action ballot vote by an overwhelming 97% in favor of industrial action, with some 92% voting for a 24-hour strike. Another 24-hour strike has been authorized on a date to be determined if no agreement can be reached between the NTEU and management by Friday.
Despite weeks of negotiations, management is only offering a 6% pay rise over three years, which would mean a pay rise of 2% a year, a huge real wage cut as inflation is set to hit 7.75% by the end of this year.
In June, NTEU branch president Dan Conway proposed a 15% salary increase over three years, also well below the rate of inflation, and even further behind actual increases in the cost of living. .
Strike votes demonstrate the will of workers to fight for decent wages and conditions. It also reflects the broader intent of university staff to oppose the mass destruction of jobs and conditions, which the NTEU has authorized, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the University of Sydney, members voted 92% in favor of a strike for the fourth time this year. The majority voted to make it a two-day strike on October 13-14.
University of Queensland workers voted 93% to go on one-day strikes and halted work on September 1. the draconian Fair Work Act passed by the last labour-backed Labor government in 2009.
The NTEU’s goal, however, is to continue to isolate workers, university by university, and wear them out with ineffectual one- or two-day strikes. He opposed calls by members of the Committee for Public Instruction (CFPE) for a unified fight against the attack on jobs and working conditions, which continues under the current Labor government.
At UoN, management is demanding the introduction of a new job category called “Periodic Academic Employment,” which is essentially a casual staff position without the occasional 25% charge.
Management is also pushing for the 25 days of annual leave to be split into 15-day “sick and carers” leave and 10-day “lifetime leave”. Lifetime leave would not accumulate from year to year, which could limit the amount of leave that staff members can take.
In an interview with the Newcastle Herald last week, Conway said: “What we are looking for are not mad leftist demands as they are sometimes portrayed…we have responded to many management demands in the interest of to reach an agreement.
In other words, the union continues to sacrifice workers’ conditions to meet management’s demands, as the NTEU has done for decades. This leadership accommodation has intensified since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the NTEU offered nationwide to agree to thousands of job cuts and pay cuts of up to 15 %.
The union’s grievance register is deliberately vague. Under the “job security” section, it requires that “dismissal only occur when the work is no longer required to be performed by anyone.” This effectively gives management its blessing to cut jobs that are “no longer needed” in line with the company’s ongoing restructuring and cost cutting.
Under “organizational change and dismissal”, the union states that “the agreement should specify that no individual should be subject to organizational change affecting their employment more than once during the term of the agreement”. This would still allow management to restructure and cut.
Despite the strike and the picket, management said classes would continue. An email sent to students by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Mark Hoffman said ‘there may be limited disruption in some areas’ but ‘we expect most classes to continue as normal’.
Aided by the NTEU’s drive to impose job and salary cuts, UoN management, like other universities, has taken advantage of the pandemic to accelerate business-friendly restructuring at the expense of staff and students.
As a result, UoN recorded a surplus of $185,270,000 in 2021, while more than 164 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs were destroyed among academic staff and another 61.4 FTE jobs among professional staff and 530 of the university’s 2,200 courses were scrapped at the end of 2020.
However, this does not paint the complete picture. According to the UoN 2021 Annual Report released this year, there were only 387 casual FTEs on campus last year. This indicates that up to 500 casual employees lost their jobs between 2020 and 2021.
At the national level, the NTEU has made no demands for an end to the layoffs, let alone for the reinstatement of the thousands of jobs, permanent and casual, that have been cut across the country.
The cuts are further intensified under the Labor government. This week, James Cook University announced it would cut 130 out of 1,313, or 10%, of professional staff positions. This would cut 78 employees and eliminate 52 currently vacant positions.
In staff emails throughout August, the NTEU hailed the Western Sydney University (WSU) deal as a “historic victory” for university workers and a “model” to be replicated. It is a fraud and a warning of what the NTEU seeks to impose on the UoN and elsewhere.
First, there was not even a vote at WSU by members on this deal, the details of which have not been finalized. Second, the agreement proposes a reduction in real wages – on average 3.5% per year – fully in line with the demands of the Reserve Bank and the Albanian Labor government.
Third, the deal would simply prioritize casuals from the university to apply for about 150 full-time positions, allowing management to decide which casuals it deemed employable. The union also dropped demands for 17% employer pension contributions and paid sick leave for casuals.
As restructuring and downsizing have intensified nationwide since 2020, NTEU officials have repeatedly told members that no industrial action can be taken outside of periods of corporate bargaining. , due to the Fair Work Anti-Strike Act. But it was introduced by the federal Rudd-Gillard Labor governments of 2007-2013 with the full backing of the union bureaucracy.
NTEU leaders have lamented in meetings that workers do not join the union and that is supposedly why they do not have the strength to assume leadership. But the precipitous decline in membership is the result of the union’s role, working hand-in-hand with management, to block a unified struggle and push through regressive company agreements, imposing cuts in jobs, wages and conditions.
This disaffection with the union was seen in the recent NTEU national leadership election, in which only 5,552 members voted, or about 20% of the 26,563 members, which fell by 31,000 in June 2020, only two years ago.
Together with the CFPE, the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) calls for a unified fight by university workers and students against the deepening cuts. We warn that no step forward can be taken by the unions, which have shown that they are nothing more than devices to camouflage the workers and impose the demands of the managements.
We urge students and university workers to establish rank-and-file committees, independent of the unions. This is linked to the fight for free, high-quality education for all and for the right to permanent employment for all university staff, within the framework of a socialist perspective that rejects the dictates of the corporate elite.
This means building the CFPE, the grassroots organization of educators, initiated by the Socialist Equality Party, as part of an International Alliance of Grassroots Committee Workers. Contact the CFPE:
Email: [email protected]