National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members at UTS picketed the campus as part of a 24-hour strike on 21 May. Despite being the first strike in a decade, the action visibly depleted the numbers of students and staff on campus, galvanised union members, and sent a strong message to management.
After a year of negotiations, it was not until staff held a stop-work meeting and voted to strike that UTS management sent senior staff to the bargaining table—an indication of their contempt for the process.
The university has proposed removing existing protections for staff that would make jobs less secure. It is clear that UTS wants to get an agreement that gives them more ability to micro-manage and sack staff.
The university is putting $1 billion into new buildings, but offering the staff expected to deliver their “innovative learning experience” an effective pay cut through a 2.75 per cent offer.
An average of 60 per cent of academic staff nationally are in casual positions and UTS has one of the fastest-growing rates of casualisation. Yet management has rejected the union’s demand to turn 80 casual teaching positions into permanent roles. UTS’s first offer was five permanent positions, increased to a still negligible 20.
The sacking of UTS NTEU Branch President Simon Wade—the lead staff representative in negotiations—shows what kind of culture UTS management wants on campus. Simon had worked at UTS for 16 years without any problem with his performance. Yet in the midst of negotiations, UTS accused him of misconduct and dismissed him. The NTEU is fighting this in court.
Management’s woeful offer to non-academic staff in June shows that the university want to make it easier to performance manage and dismiss staff. Simon’s treatment is a warning to all staff at UTS.
The Commonwealth Public Sector Union (CPSU), which also represents non-academic UTS staff, has now joined with the NTEU in rejecting the University’s Professional Staff agreement, and is balloting its members for industrial action.
The UTS NTEU branch has voted to strike on the first day back of semester two, raising the prospect of joint union action on this day. UTS staff realise that if we want to win the conditions and wages we deserve we will have to force a recalcitrant management to deliver.
By Jean Parker, UTS NTEU