On 20 August academic staff at UTS will strike for 24-hours in their year-and-a-half fight for a decent agreement.
One of the key battlegrounds is workloads. While UTS is spending $1 billion on new buildings, it wants to save money on staff. “Education Focussed” roles were meant to be a way into academia for casual teachers and researchers. But the University wants to exclude them from faculty workload guidelines and force them to work three semesters a year. This will create an underclass of academics performing non-stop teaching, with no space to do researcher. Union demands for 80 “scholarly teaching fellows” to reduce casualisation have been met with a derisory offer of five.
Victory against these attacks on staff is even more vital because the union has reluctantly called for a “yes” vote in the ballot for the professional staff agreement (covering non-academic administrative staff). Having called off a strike on the first day of semester and endorsing the professional agreement, the union will need to work hard to regain momentum.
The professional agreement includes a respectable 3.2 per cent real wage increase that will likely be replicated in the academic agreement. But it also includes increased management controls over long service leave, only token domestic violence leave and a suite of other changes that remove protections for staff. The union’s demand for a professional development fund was not won.
However the final agreement was radically better than one the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) agreed to after two weeks of secret negotiations with management. If it were not for the resistance of the NTEU the agreement would have included an insulting below inflation wage offer of 2.6 per cent and allowed the university to mandate when staff take long service leave.
Instead of going along with the CPSU deal, the NTEU continued its plan to strike at the start of semester two. The NTEU also threatened to take UTS to Fair Work for breaching “good faith bargaining” by dealing secretly with the CPSU. These actions forced UTS to concede a much better agreement for professional staff.
The existence of a separate professional staff agreement is a problem the NTEU must address. UTS strategically concluded this agreement first because there are less union members among non-academic staff.
The University relies on its staff being divided between an academic and professional agreement, and between the NTEU and the CPSU. It also relies on the preparedness of the CPSU to sign a shabby deal. Management is now attempting to roll all the bad clauses in the professional agreement into the academic agreement.
The NTEU members’ meeting that voted to accept the professional agreement also voted to fight for a united all-staff agreement in the next round bargaining. We need to fight to defend and extend academic conditions in this round if we are to go into the campaign for a united agreement with the conditions and protections we deserve.
By Jean Parker