DID you know that during the heights of the Covid-19 pandemic, an estimated 30,000 staff in the higher education sector lost their jobs?
To make a comparison, the number of job losses is only slightly fewer than the entire number of people who work in the Australian coal industry.
For those lucky enough to keep their job, workloads have massively increased, job insecurity has amplified, and pay has remained stagnant.
Hi! My name is Lydia Wells and I am a lecturer in the School of Law and Criminology at Murdoch University.
I am also a branch committee member of the Murdoch University branch of the National Tertiary Education Union – the union which represents most tertiary education staff in Australia, and currently acting president of the branch.
As I write this, our union is on the verge of entering negotiations with Murdoch management for a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement).
Our current agreement expired at the end of 2021, and it has taken this long to get to the bargaining table.
The Enterprise Agreement of our university – same as in other Australian universities – governs staff terms and conditions, and their rights, across a huge variety of important work-related areas; it is not just ‘pay and holidays’.
For example, it guarantees protections for staff who use their expertise to speak out on contentious issues (‘academic freedom’), an area of great importance in recent years of arguments around international students, the climate wars and the thorny issues raised by the pandemic.
When I joined the NTEU in early 2015, I had only hazy knowledge of the union and its role, but I have since come to understand the power of collective action.
For example, recently here in WA we have seen Curtin university staff defeating management’s attempt to bypass the union with an inferior offer.
That defeat has forced management back to the table to negotiate further in good faith.
Collective action is the key and it worked.
As Billy Bragg sings: there is power in a union!
Across Australia we are bargaining with management to achieve fair and reasonable improvements in conditions of employment, with a focus on job security, pay and workloads.
In terms of casual staff, we are seeking enhanced rights to be offered secure employment after a period on casual contracts.
Many staff on insecure contracts work from one teaching semester to another, receiving no sick leave or other benefits for their hard work.
Additionally, wage theft is rampant across the university sector, with a recent NTEU report finding there was at least $83.4 million dollars in stolen wages owed to university staff
We are also seeking fair pay increases, which will help Murdoch staff to meet the rising cost of living, but also wage parity with other universities.
And there is a need for urgent action on workloads, which have increased and intensified because of the restructures and cost-cutting we had during and after covid.
Fair pay, fair workloads and job security. These are reasonable requests.
As workers from all across the state and country are experiencing a crippling cost of living crisis, we need to join our respective unions to have a bigger voice at the bargaining table and to help keep our workplaces fair.
The NTEU will be taking part in the UnionsWA May Day event at the Fremantle Esplanade tomorrow (Sunday April 30) starting at 10.30am where we will celebrate union solidarity.
Details of that event can be found at https://www.unionswa.com.au/may_day_2023.
We will also have events at all university campuses across Australia during the week after May Day (May 1-5) for the NTEU National Week of Action, with all the details at nteu.au/betterunisNWA/.
We hope to see you all there.