NSW: Sydney Uni staff under attack

NSW: Sydney Uni staff under attack

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Staff at Sydney University are facing the most serious attack on pay and conditions yet seen at any Australian university. A draft Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) put forward by university management in December 2012 is aimed squarely at reducing staff wages, undermining union rights and preparing the ground for future cuts.

This attempt by management to undermine pay and conditions comes hot on the heels of staff cuts that took place in 2011-12. Faced with opposition to the cuts from students and staff, management was forced to lower its job cuts targets. Some of the biggest protests seen in a decade were held on the campus.

By W. van Leeuwen, Socialist Party Sydney

At that time about 110 academics were given redundancies or teaching-only positions while about 200 general staff faced the sack. Part of managements’ strategy then was to dent staff morale and weaken the NTEU before negotiations began for a new EBA.

The new EBA offers only a 2% salary increase, well below real increases in the cost of living; the slashing of sick leave entitlements by 60%; abolition of the expectation that 40% of academics’ time be spent on research; removal of the guarantee that no more than 5% of a faculty’s teaching will be casualised and a watering down of ‘managing change’ provisions that will leave the university a free hand for the next round of cuts.

They also want to abolish classification protections that prevent non-academic staff from being required to work at a higher level than they are paid for; abolish review committees that provide some degree of control over management decisions; abolish anti-discrimination employment practices, and critically, attempt to remove the NTEU from future EBA negotiations – which aims to decimate the collective power of university workers.

This dispute should be seen in the context of other recent university cuts around Australia. These attacks to education themselves are connected to Labor’s so-called ‘demand driven’ federal funding model and mooted further increases in student fees. These are stepping stones in an ongoing process of corporatisation and ultimately privatisation.

If management is allowed to push through these regressive measures it will represent not only a blow to staff at Sydney Uni, but it will be seen as a green light for other universities to follow suit.

Academics and general staff at Sydney Uni need to see themselves on the front line of the battle for public education in Australia. A serious plan of industrial action, which should aim to link up with students, needs to be prepared. A strike early in the semester is a good start but staff need to prepare for the possibility that this will not be enough to force management to back down.

As well as preparing to follow up the first strike with further industrial action the NTEU should be looking to widen the dispute and to draw around it other sections of workers who are suffering State and Federal budget cuts.

At the end of the day if the university claims it does not have enough money to fund decent wages and high quality education we should be demanding more government funding not less. Alongside the industrial strategy the NTEU needs to develop a political strategy aimed stopping the shift towards corporatisation.

Far from relying on either Labor or the Liberals the trade unions and student unions need to accept that both the major parties are responsible for reducing funding and undermining public education. We need a new political movement that is prepared to fight for free and quality education that affords all academics and staff the decent wages that they deserve.

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Picket line report: Strike shuts Sydney Uni

Hundreds of Sydney Uni academics and general staff members took strike action for 24 hours on Thursday March 7, the first strike there since 2003. Members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) are jointly fighting the most serious attack on wages and conditions yet seen at any university in Australia.

All reports indicated the strike was largely observed by workers and students. The main campus at Camperdown was largely empty, despite a concerted attempt by management to split staff and pressure them to turn up to work.

A series of lies about the finances of the university also attempted to pit students against staff, saying if workers received a pay increase cuts would be necessary elsewhere. A single glance at any financial report shows that the university is one of the richest in Australia, even sitting on a cash surplus of $93 million! Despite the efforts of university management most students stayed at home.

Picket lines at all major entrances were well attended, and there was a general mood of determination and a willingness to step up the fight. Many students showed solidarity with staff, which was a huge boost to morale. Some good work has been done to bring students on board, but much work remains to be done as many students still don’t understand what is at stake.

The picketers showed courageous determination in the face of what was for the vast majority their first-ever strike. Yet there were questions about the strategy employed by the leaderships of the CPSU and the NTEU on the day. Some people were questioning a protocol that allowed people to cross the picket line after they had listened to picketers’ arguments as to why they should not cross.

This was partly explained by saying that most staff had never been on strike before, and it important that the strike be a positive experience, as the campaign would likely go on for many more weeks. It seems for the most part the protocol did not achieve this. Many picketers were clearly demoralising after seeing car after car being let through on the University Avenue Gate.

By contrast the Barff Road entrance was earlier fully shut down by literally a handful of picketers. This was despite a high level police officer threatening to break the picket on the basis of the protocol. That officer eventually sent the Riot Squad to stare down those picketers down.

The picketers held firm, and were soon bolstered by more people from the nearby City Road Gate. Soon after the Riot Squad cottoned on to the workers’ determination and left. The police were then forced to accept that the picket would be maintained and they ended up closing the road. This was a massive boost to morale with one worker exclaiming how simple that it was, and why we weren’t doing this on every picket-line.

What this example shows is that it would have been possible to shut the entire university down completely, which is the threat the university administration is most afraid of. Despite claims that such action is not within the law, mass action can sweep legal threats aside.

All of the strikers came together at a lunchtime rally of around 500 and declared their determination to continue the campaign. Preparations are being made to follow up this action with a 48-strike in a couple of weeks time.