Sydney University staff will strike for three days in early October, after a decision at a members meeting of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) on campus. Staff have already taken seven days of industrial action this year, in response to a vicious attack by the university management on our pay and conditions.
The meeting also committed to follow the 72-hour strike with a campaign of rolling industrial action if the university continues its attack.
Strike action has been critical in protecting staff conditions, and reversing management’s attempts to remove fundamental provisions such as intellectual freedom, anti-discrimination clauses, job security, sick leave, research allocation and fair review processes from the new agreement.
And the actions have also won core improvements, in particular 120 secure and continuing positions for previously insecure staff members (a critical victory against the chronic casualisation of the sector where over half of teaching is provided by casual staff).
But management has refused to back down on pay, offering a mere 2.9 per cent (now no longer backdated for the 18 months of negotiations!). By any calculation, this amounts to a real pay cut, and would have particularly severe consequences for the low paid and insecure staff attempting to cope with Sydney’s cost of living.
NTEU members have rightly rejected this pay cut and reaffirmed the union’s claim, with no choice but to escalate the campaign until an acceptable pay offer is made.
Abbott’s election victory means we will have to fight even harder for workers’ rights and quality education. Abbott was a key supporter of Howard government policies including WorkChoices and cuts to university funding. He will not reverse Labor’s $2.3 billion in cuts from the higher education budget.
Just days before the election, he demonstrated what “improving productivity” will mean for staff and students, announcing he would axe Australian Research Council projects that the Coalition deems to be “wasteful”. His election gives a boost to university management, with an anti-union government now on their side.
This heightens the importance of the NTEU struggle in breaking the pay cut, particularly given that Sydney Uni’s pay offer is now being mirrored by universities around the country. A staff victory will give a boost to unionists and activists around the country as we begin to build the fightback against Abbott.
By Freya Bundey, NTEU activist