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Students and staff band together as UTS employment negotiations begin

Management’s proposals continue UTS’ track record of austerity measures.

Amidst incessant funding cuts and job losses, the UTS Education Action Group (EAG) and the NTEU have banded together in solidarity to push back against management proposals for UTS’ Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA), which will cover rates of pay and employment conditions for the next three years.

​​Negotiations began on July 20 and fortnightly bargaining meetings have been scheduled to continue indefinitely until an agreement is reached.

The EBA proposals made by UTS management have been criticised for undermining the rights of staff and the quality of student learning at the university. These include removing the 7am-7pm limit on working hours, reducing notice periods for termination, lowering redundancy pay and forcing staff to take leave once they have accumulated 20 days of leave. Management have also proposed to remove staff entitlement safeguards and job security protections like redundancy and unsatisfactory performance reviews, which provide workplace fairness. 

These measures disproportionately affect women, who make up 45% of academic staff, as management proposes to tighten the minimum requirements for parental leave from 40 to 52 weeks of service, locking out many staff members from seeking leave. 

In addition to cutting jobs in the Science and Education departments, management wishes to modify job descriptions which are associated with a fixed pay rate, ushering in further opportunities to slim down staff wages. 

UTS NTEU Branch President Sarah Attfield told Honi that “the University has produced a draft agreement that removes some of the current conditions which do not address job security, which is central to our log of claims”. 

Management’s proposals continue UTS’ track record of austerity measures. In response to these mounting pressures, the UTS EAG ran a ‘Fighting the Cuts’ forum on August 26, attended by over 50 students and staff.

Women’s Collective convenor Cat Doherty spoke about how many of her courses were shifted to online without any in-person options, planned before the onset of COVID-19. She condemned UTS as “a degree factory that profits off the exploitation of its staff”, highlighting that UTS’ casualisation rates, like those in many Australian universities, are similar to that of McDonald’s. 

EAG activist Chloe Rafferty echoed this sentiment, highlighting UTS’ capitalisation on COVID as a justification for relentless cuts. “They’re using this crisis as a pretext to ram through massive job cuts,” she claimed.

UTS cut over 350 jobs in 2020 through a university-wide voluntary redundancy program and announced a further $3.2 million in cuts to FASS earlier this year. 

Holly Hayne, a FASS student and EAG member, reminded the audience that “management are cutting staff because they want to, not because they have to”, highlighting the disparity between staff wages and the Vice-Chancellor’s $1 million salary. 

At the conclusion of the forum, students and staff unanimously passed a motion that demanded UTS’ cessation of cuts to jobs, courses and tutorials. The motion also appealed to the government to fully fund universities and revoke the university’s “Fit for 2027” Graduate package.

The job loss crisis peddled by university management’s austerity logic also finds roots at the University of Sydney, where twenty-two USyd library staff lost their jobs in February. Departments such as Studies in Religion and Theatre and Performance Studies are still facing closure

The NTEU has organised a national week of action which starts on September 13, culminating in a mass action on September 17.