National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members at the University of Sydney will be on strike for the 8th and 9th times on Friday March 31 and the following Wednesday, April 5, in the longest-running strike campaign in any Australian university. The decision to take further industrial action follows university management’s refusal to implement satisfactory controls on staff workload.
University management and the NTEU have been in contract negotiations for over twenty months. In addition to protections against overwork, the strike campaign has among its goals measures to improve job-security for casual and professional staff, and a pay increase that recognises the very significant rise in the number of students per staff member in recent years.
The vote to strike was taken at the largest ever union meeting held at the university, which had over 700 union members present.
‘Never once in the history of the university have we had so many NTEU members voting to strike,’ said Dr Nick Riemer, the president of the NTEU branch at the university. ‘Twenty one months into negotiations, that tells us something about the crisis of overwork at the university, and the lack of confidence that staff have in the VC, Mark Scott, and the Provost, Annamarie Jagose, neither of whom have ever bothered even coming to negotiations.’
‘Far too many staff are crippled with overwork,’ Riemer continued. ‘We have people paid to work thirty hours a week who are working 48, just to keep up with their teaching. This cannot go on.’
‘Union members will not write the Vice-Chancellor and the Provost a blank cheque to increase overwork and undo our commitment to research-led teaching. The VC thought we’d accept half measures. He was wrong. How long will he hold staff and students hostage?’
NTEU General Secretary, Dr Damien Cahill, said ‘On the back of several days of strikes by NTEU members, progress has been made recently in negotiations. However, University management needs to listen to concerns that staff have about Education Focused roles and reflect these in a new enterprise agreement. Given Sydney Uni’s $1billion surplus, management can also afford a more generous pay rise to its staff whose sacrifices got the University through the depths of the pandemic.’
University operations are expected to be widely disrupted by the industrial action, with union members forming pickets at the university entrances on both mornings. Lectures, tutorials, laboratories and workshops will not be taking place. Visiting speakers and high-school outreach are being widely cancelled, the student union’s food outlets will be closed, and administration work, including on grant applications and results processing, will not be going ahead. Key deadlines risk not being met. Support on many IT systems will be reduced or unavailable. The university museum shop will be closed. Earlier strikes in the campaign have led to the cancellation of graduations and the Law Careers Fair.