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NTEU steps up campaign with 3 day strike

Lucy Hughes Jones reports on the latest developments in enterprise bargaining between University staff and management

Photo: Ezreena Yahya

It’s back to the picket lines in a few weeks’ time as the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) announces its first three-day strike for October 8-10, following seven days of strikes at USYD this year.

The NTEU is escalating its industrial action in second semester after the last strike was held on the University’s Open Day in August. NTEU Sydney Branch President Michael Thomson says since agreements have been reached on working conditions, the dispute has narrowed to centre on wages.

The unions are asking for a salary increase of 4% every year, while University management is currently offering 2.9% per annum. The unions claim the amount offered will not be back-paid, despite staff not having had a pay increase since January 2012.

Thomson said management’s pay offer to staff is a real wage cut of 0.5% a year, and was unreasonable given increased staff workloads, the University’s recent revenue boost and data from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations that shows national system public sector employees, such as University staff, receive an average wage increase of 3.9% per annum.

“The University is a 1.6 billion dollar business, the amount of money they had in surplus last year was $137 million, and the difference between our wage positions was 6.6 million dollars this year,” said Thomson.

The University management contends that it has an underlying operating deficit of $46.3 million, and the surplus does not represent money that can be spent on salaries.

“It is made up of tied funds such as unspent research funds, philanthropic funds allocated by donors to specific purposes and funds that must be spent on specific capital investment projects,” said Sarah Stock, Media and PR Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor’s Office. “A 4% pay increase would cost an additional $118.2 million in expenditure to 2016 – more than twice the University’s underlying deficit in 2012.”

To make up this funding shortfall, management said in 2016 it would have to increase the equivalent full-time student load by 2188 students without putting on any extra staff, blowing out teacher/student ratios. However the unions claim that student load increased by more than 5% in 2012 alone, yet staff numbers have remained unchanged.

Last week, around 150 students and NTEU members marched on Vice Chancellor Michael Spence’s office at the University to rally in support of fair conditions for staff.

2013 is the first year there has been strike action on campus in a decade, with negotiations for a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement continuing between the University’s management and staff for over 12 months.

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