Staff and students strike for staff working conditions

They formed picket lines at all major University entrances.

The strikers and 'Scabby the Rat' in the Quad. Image: Nick Bonyhady The strikers and 'Scabby the Rat' in the Quad. Image: Nick Bonyhady

University of Sydney staff from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) held a strike today as part of their ongoing negotiation of a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) with the University.

The EBA will determine staff conditions, such as wages and leave, for the next four years.

Though the NTEU has been granted some of their claims, negotiations have reached an impasse on four issues: the University’s salary offer, casual workers’ leave and superannuation, redundancy policies, and the creation of ‘education-focused’ roles across the University, which would limit research opportunities.

The University has countered the NTEU’s statements about the offer, saying “there are no reductions in benefits in the University’s proposal” and framing their pay offer as “a pay rise of more than 8 percent over the life of the agreement” in an email to staff from Friday, September 1.

Staff and students formed picket lines at major University entrances, hoping to deter students from coming into uni.

USyd NTEU Branch President Kurt Iveson told Honi, “It seems to me that our folks were behaving according to the picket protocols that we had in place, which was that we said we would be stopping people to talk to them, and then if they really insisted on proceeding that that would happen.”

Further, while some students crossed the picket lines, “We’ve told them about why we’re there … and lots of them turned around and offered us their support,” he said.

At around midday, the picketers marched to Fisher Library, where protesters spoke, before marching to the Quadrangle.

The strikers move from Fisher Library to the Quad. Photograph: Nick Bonyhady
The strikers move from Fisher Library to the Quad. Photograph: Nick Bonyhady

The University’s negotiations with the NTEU in 2013 led to seven days of strikes and several arrests.

While there was significant police presence at some of the picket lines, today’s strikes seemed more tame overall.

“As far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been any stuff that has reached the extent of the incidents that happened in 2013 … I’ve had open communication with the police and with security for the last couple of days, and they weren’t trying to stop us doing our action here,” Iveson told Honi.

Strikers and police at the Carillon Avenue picket. Image: Anna Hush
Strikers and police at the Carillon Avenue picket. Image: Anna Hush

However, the atmosphere did get heated at the Carillon Avenue picket line, where Honi heard that riot police were pushing students over and being particularly aggressive.

SUPRA councillor Nic Avery told Honi that he was pulled out of the picket line and handcuffed after he tried to resist a police officer who was pushing hard against his throat.

He was given a move on order and released without arrest.

Honi also received several reports of a man who claimed to be a plain clothes detective filming protesters throughout the day.

Also present at today’s protest was ‘Scabby the Rat’, a 10 metre high inflatable rodent on loan from the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria who stood menacingly on the City Road picket line throughout the morning, before being placed outside Vice Chancellor Michael Spence’s office in the Quadrangle later on.

On Monday afternoon, students received an email from Deputy Vice Chancellor (Registrar) Tyrone Carlin explaining that, despite the planned protests, “most classes will continue as usual”, and that campus security “will monitor picket lines to ensure the safety of staff and students”.

A spokesperson for the University told Honi “the University remains regretful that the action took place but is happy that for the most part the day proceeded without incident”.

Last week, the University tried to circumvent the Union by running a poll on whether staff would like to accept its EBA offer.

Over 60 per cent voted that they would like to continue bargaining.

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

Michael Spence

Michael Spence: the fair controller?

The Vice Chancellor has been in the role for almost a decade; his drive to reshape the University seems to have only grown.