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‘It will only change through our resistance’: Staff at USyd strike for ninth day

The 21-month-long bargaining process is the longest of any university in Australian history.

Photography by Bipasha Chakraborty.

University of Sydney staff and students went on a 24-hour strike today, calling for University management to commit to a parity target for First Nations employment, a reduction of education-focused roles (EFRs), job security and fair pay. This was the second half of a 48-hour industrial action, with the initial strike held last Friday.

Today marked the ninth day of striking during the USyd NTEU’s (National Tertiary Education Union) bargaining process which, as it enters its 21st month, has been the longest bargaining period of any university in Australian history.

Pickets formed from 7am at most major campus entrances including the Redfern Run, City Road, Parramatta Road and Victoria Park, with staff and students dissuading people from entering the University grounds. Once again, the streets of the campus were empty, with a majority of classes called off and some proceeding online.

Among the union’s key demands were an end to exploitative casualisation, preservation of academics’ right to conduct research, improved job-security, increased protections against overwork, and a pay rise above inflation.

USyd NTEU Branch President Nick Riemer reaffirmed the demand for a First Nations staff parity target, saying that “as the NTEU, as unionists, as people committed to collective action, as people committed to people power for justice, we stand unconditionally on the side of Aboriginal people.” 

USyd NTEU Branch President Nick Riemer and USyd SRC President Lia Perkins.

In response to University management’s proposal to establish 650 new EFRs with a 70% teaching workload, Dr Joe Collins from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences criticised the expansion of EFRs by speaking to their experience managing the workload. 

“For those of you who don’t know what 70% looks like, in the final year of my education-focused workload, I was coordinating tenure to study over the course of the 12-month period, so that’s five units of study per semester… preparing five different lectures every week, five different points of scholarship,” he said. 

“I used to joke with the students that those on a full time student load — four units of study — are on one unit less than me.’ 

Greens MP for Newtown and Spokesperson for Industrial Relations Jenny Leong attended the Eastern Avenue/City Road picket line, affirming the NSW Greens’ commitment to support the NTEU’s demands and show solidarity with strikers.

“We need to support workers’ rights to strike. We need to recognize that our university systems have been underfunded and entered into a capitalist ideology that ensures that profit is put first and foremost over public education, research, and training and support, and the greens are here, and I’m here to show my solidarity.”

Associate Professor in Sociology and Criminology Jake Lynch emphasised the hypocrisy of the University’s reluctance to support better staff conditions as it reports a record surplus of $1.04 billion.

Lynch said that there is always “ample funding for management’s wheezes and dribble, no matter how vociferous the connection with our core purpose is. Whereas getting staff appointed to do teaching or research is invariably like pulling teeth. 

“That must change. It will only change through our resistance.”

Police were present at all of the major pickets and generally remained at a distance.

While reports from the Eastern Avenue and Parramatta Road pickets seem to confirm a small number of strikebreakers undermining the NTEU’s action, picket lines generally held firm and did not see the levels of violence faced during last Friday’s strikes.

Picket contingents from across campus converged on the Quadrangle at midday, where a speak-out was held with delegates from the Branch Committee. Chants and speeches echoed throughout the courtyard before strikers disbanded at 1pm.

The NTEU will meet next Tuesday 11 May to discuss future action and bargaining updates. At the moment, a 72-hour strike has been planned for Week 10.

Disclaimer: Ethan Floyd is a member of the National Tertiary Education Union.

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