BREAKING: Fate of Week Six strikes uncertain after evenly split staff vote
The National Tertiary Education Union members’ vote came after the University made an updated offer to staff this week.
The fate of the Week Six strikes is unclear after the University of Sydney Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) was evenly split in a vote to proceed or postpone the strikes. The vote came after the University of Sydney proposed a new offer in ongoing Enterprise Bargaining negotiations.
The motions to proceed, or postpone, the Week Six strikes were proposed by the majority and minority of the USyd NTEU Branch Committee respectively. The Branch Committee majority moved to proceed with the Week Six strike because of management’s failure to make concessions on the Union’s demands, seeing strikes as the best means of producing these concessions. The Branch Committee minority sought to delay the strike action as a sign of “good faith” to University management, in light of further bargaining meetings set to occur early next week.
Following the evenly split vote, the future of the strikes are uncertain at this stage.
After 20 months of Enterprise Bargaining negotiations, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost Annamarie Jagose communicated the University’s new offer to staff today in an all-staff email, an update which provided the pretext for the vote. The new agreement contains some movement on the following issues.
Academic Staff Workloads
The University’s new offer would see the preservation of the 40:40:20 academic workload model — which entitles academic staff to have workloads balanced to be 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% administration — in place under the existing Enterprise Agreement. Yet, it would see the establishment of 650 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) “education focussed roles,” a large increase from the approximately 220 FTE positions which currently exist.
Staff in these education focussed roles can have teaching workloads consisting of up to 70% of their workload. Unlike staff in 40:40:20 roles, they do not have a choice in taking this large teaching workload.
The NTEU is concerned about the expansion of education focussed roles (EFRs) as staff in these roles are often heavily overworked and struggle to access career progression because of the importance of research credentials in academic hiring processes. Education focussed staff can be locked into these positions for years.
The Union emphasises that this will be harmful for junior and future academics, who are more likely to end up in these positions. They are concerned that this could lead to the stratification of the academic workforce, with damaging power dynamics emerging between those with and without 40:40:20 positions.
They are also concerned this sets a precedent for the University attacking 40:40:20 positions in the future.The NTEU has already conceded to the almost doubling of EFRs and thus expects the University to reduce their demands for increases above this. The University has thus far committed to a cap of 25% of education focussed roles as a proportion of the total non-casual workforce. The NTEU is seeking for the cap to be set at 20%.
Under the new offer, the University would increase the number of new continuing academic roles from 300 to 330 positions, setting aside a portion of these to casual and fixed-term academics currently employed at USyd.
The University will also reduce the proportion of casuals in the total workforce by 20% in the proposed agreement.
The University and the NTEU have resolved a number of issues relating to professional staff. The final agreement will include better provisions for professional staff made redundant or being deployed and “improvements to performance management, recognition of service increments when changing jobs, conversion provisions and performance provisions,” as Jagose put it to staff.
Issues pertaining to the internal advertisement of jobs at HEO8 and HEO9 level, among others, are yet to be resolved.
Matters to be resolved
The final details of the employment clauses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff are yet to be finalised, with bargaining continuing on Monday for this purpose. The NTEU is demanding that First Nations staff make up an equal proportion of the staff as they do in the Australian population (population parity). The University initially was supportive of this, but has walked back this commitment over the course of enterprise negotiations.
Negotiations are continuing on the final pay offer made to staff, with the NTEU opposed to the University’s current offer.
The USyd Branch of the NTEU has been contacted for comment.
UPDATE: The result of this vote has now been released. The Wednesday strike has been postponed, and the Friday strike will go ahead as planned.