National Tertiary Education University members at 16 universities across the country stopped work on September 16 as part of the NTEU national bargaining round to fight increased workloads, a blow-out in class sizes, casualisation and other attacks on jobs and conditions. It is an indication of the mood among campus workers that tens of thousands of NTEU members have voted for industrial action in ballots over the past few months.
Melbourne University (MU) members picketed three main campus entrances and around 250 people were at the lunchtime rally. The University of Melbourne Student Union supported the NTEU’s strike.
NTEU general secretary Graham McCulloch told a rally of MU and RMIT workers that over the last ten years, the student teacher ratio at universities has gone from 12 to one to 27 to one.
Melbourne University management has since increased its pay offer to 15 per cent, but this is less than the 16 per cent at Deakin, 16.5 per cent at Monash, and a long way short of the benchmark figure offer at of 18.3 per cent over two and a half years that has been won at Sydney Uni.
Melbourne University staff were promised over many years that the arrangement tying salaries tied to the number of fee paying students on a contingency basis would prevent staff cuts. It has not.
In 2008 management efforts to cut jobs at Melbourne Uni were partially curtailed by a variety of actions, leading to no forced redundancies (though many people left through sheer tiredness and exhaustion).
This year a massive attack on staff has been launched with an expected loss of over 220 positions.
At first members were keen and active, but as the union leadership did not succeed in winning strike action against the job cuts, and as agreements about the job losses began to be implemented, demoralisation has set in.
But the September strike action did win new members to the NTEU. What is needed now is strong and on-going action to win at least the benchmarks set by the Sydney University agreement.
In particular, Sydney’s agreement will see restoration of employment standards lost in 2005 when the Howard Government legislated for industry specific restrictions on union activity and collective bargaining. To step up the campaign and lay a stronger workplace basis for the fights ahead, we now need to rebuild delegate groups that are self-organising.
The NTEU needs to take very seriously the centrepiece of the Rudd government’s plans for universities, its Bradley Review, which will mean a de facto voucher system.
Universities will be paid according to the number of students they attract. This “demand-driven” model will force universities to ramp up enrolments, particularly in money-making courses that cater to the narrow requirements of business.
This is exactly the kind of corporatisation favoured by MU management who considers that the Arts Faculty at Melbourne to be completely disposable.
By Melanie Lazarow