The Sydney University National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is set to strike in week one of classes, following the return of their industrial action ballot. This marks the beginning of what will be an intense battle with University management, who are waging their most aggressive attack to date on staff, students and the union.
While the NTEU is pushing for restrictions on casualisation and increased job security, management wants an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) that abolishes academic freedom and undermines working conditions.
Amongst other similarly horrifying changes, management wants to abolish all restrictions on overtime, commitments to prevent discriminatory employment practices and Intellectual Freedom protections, as well as removing restrictions on casualisation. The 2 per cent pay rise offered to staff, taking inflation into account, amounts to a significant cut in pay.
Attacking the union
Management is also waging a far-reaching attack on the union itself, in an effort to prevent workers from organising and having a union that can challenge the university’s agenda. This is clearly an act of revenge against the NTEU, after management did not get its way with job cuts last year, thanks to a staff and student campaign that saved half the jobs slated for the chop.
On top of this, the level of unionisation at Sydney University is one of the highest in the country, meaning staff and students have been able to organise effectively to blunt attacks in the past.
Recognising this, the university wants to force through a series of deeply anti-union clauses so they can force through further cuts and changes with impunity in the future—most alarmingly, the removal of the NTEU as a party to the EBA, as well as the removal of obligations requiring management to consult the union on university policies, the removal of rights to challenge management decisions, hold members meetings and have a physical presence on campus.
If management is successful, there will be ramifications for university students and staff across the country, where tight-fisted managers are ready to dismantle unions and further implement a corporate model of education.
Staff and students are not shying away from this fight. As we went to press NTEU members were set to vote to go on strike for one day in the first week of semester, and possibly again in the following weeks.
Student activists, with backing from the Student Representative Council (SRC), have begun to organise to build support for the strike. The energetic counter offensive last year mobilised students en masse alongside staff. We want to carry the momentum through into this year’s campaign.
Industrial action is exactly what is needed to stop this onslaught and send a clear message to management that staff and students will not allow these changes to go through.
Everyone should support the strikes. Critical to the success of this campaign will be active support and solidarity from students on campus, and unions and workers more broadly.
A university cannot function without its staff. Bringing the workings of Sydney Uni to a halt until the bosses back down and abandon their vicious assault on staff, the union and students’ education, will prove this to great effect.
By Caitlin Doyle-Markwick