University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson’s ties to union-busting efforts at the Thales Garden Island Dry Dock are no surprise. USyd management is increasingly using anti-union tactics to pursue an agenda of corporate austerity that harms staff, students, and quality education.
Hutchinson is Chairman of the Australian arm of Thales, a French weapons manufacturing company and the eighth largest arms manufacturer globally, who are allegedly complicit in war crimes in Yemen and have been the subject of corruption and bribery charges.
Thales operates the largest dry-dock in the Southern Hemisphere at Garden Island in Sydney. The facility docks and repairs ships of the Royal Australian Navy and allied navies.
Seemingly not content with its sales revenue expected to reach over 17 billion euros for 2022, Thales is now waging a vicious campaign against its unionised workforce at Garden Island in response to their push for industry standard pay.
On 14 October, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) held a protest at the Garden Island Dry Dock following the sacking of union delegate Scott Parkinson.
MUA organiser Shane Reside said Parkinson was sacked as a reprisal for the MUA attempting to negotiate better pay.
Reside, who is party to Garden Island’s current negotiations, said that: “A conservative estimate would be that [crane operators at Garden Island] are earning 30 per cent below industry standards.”
Thales made Parkinson’s position redundant and has refused to acknowledge the MUA’s right to represent workers at Garden Island.
Reside describes Parkinson’s sacking as “a dirty industrial tactic that is available to well-resourced companies like Thales.” He says that the MUA has launched a legal challenge against Thales’ refusal to allow the MUA to represent workers, but it “will take months to resolve”.
“In that time, they’re going to put a lot of pressure on the workforce to sign an inferior agreement.”
“To even know that that was a tactic available to them, they would need to have some very well-paid anti-union lawyers to identify that option to them.
“They have made it clear that they would by far prefer to spend a lot of money on these kinds of grubby legal tactics than to just negotiate openly and honestly with their own workforce.”
It is no coincidence that the union busting drive at Garden Island has disturbing parallels with the tactics that management is using in bargaining with staff at USyd.
Belinda Hutchinson sits at the top of the corporate oligarchy that runs both SUSyd and Thales. She lives in a $20 million mansion in Point Piper while both Thales and USyd attack the pay and conditions of their workers.
According to Reside, “[USyd] is an elite institution, it’s a jewel in the crown of Sydney’s ruling class.
“The alumni of the [U]niversity are sprinkled liberally across the various top companies in Sydney and the Liberal Party and they really want to make sure that they retain control of Sydney University.”
On the same day of the MUA’s protest against Parkinson’s sacking, NTEU members at USyd were on their second day of a 48-hour strike for secure work, an end to forced redundancies, an end to wage theft, and a pay rise above inflation.
Despite generating a $1 billion surplus in 2021, university management has thus far refused to meet the key demands of staff throughout 13 months of negotiations.
Perhaps worse than this, they have flown in notorious union busting lawyer Stuart Pill of Clayton Utz from Melbourne for negotiations. While senior members of management would normally be present for negotiations, they have instead been represented by Pill.
Previously, Pill was employed by Murdoch University during their negotiations with its NTEU branch in 2017. The negotiations successfully terminated the Enterprise Agreement between Murdoch and the NTEU, making it easier for the university to sack and exploit staff through restructuring.
Apparently, Pill was so proud of this achievement that he hosted a forum on how a university can successfully apply for a termination of its enterprise agreement.
Reside was scathing about the way that corporatism has affected universities.
“Despite the fact that [Sydney University] is supposed to be a public institution they very much consider it their own and they treat it like their own,” he says.
“And the way that these people behave in the private sector is exactly the way that they’re behaving in Sydney Uni.
“We don’t want that kind of untethered ruling class prerogative in the private sector, and we don’t want it in the public sector either.
“Private sector and public sector workers — MUA members and NTEU members — we’ve got everything to gain from standing together, because it’s only with each other that we are going to find the power to resist the edicts of these princes and princesses that seem to run all of these large organisations.”
With regards to the outcome of the MUA’s legal challenge would be, Reside says: “We always like to say at the MUA, ‘you can never win at the negotiating table or the courtroom what you can’t hold at the gate.’”
The only answer to union busting is solidarity and collective action. The MUA have come to pickets and helped run NTEU barbecues during the strikes at USyd. If the MUA needs support, staff and students at Sydney Uni must be ready to answer the call. We have a common enemy and a common struggle.