UNSW staff take week-long industrial action

The University is seeking to remove limits on teaching loads for both staff in EFRs and mixed Teaching and Research positions.

Staff at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) are taking industrial action from Monday to Friday this week as part of a broader suite of industrial action across the Australian tertiary education sector. 

Members of the National Tertiary Education (NTEU) will stop work for one hour between 10:30 and 11:30 am each day as part of the action, including staff at UNSW’s Canberra campus. 

94% of UNSW NTEU Branch members voted for the action after enterprise negotiations between the Union and University management stalled. 

UNSW management’s attempt to change workloads for academic staff is a key sticking point in the negotiations. The University is seeking to remove the limit that staff in Education Focussed Roles (EFRs) can only make up to 25% of the academic workforce. It is instead seeking to impose a cap of EFRs being up to 25% of the entire UNSW workforce, which would enable an increase in the amount of staff in EFR positions. The Union opposes this change. 

The University is also seeking to remove limits on teaching loads for both staff in EFRs and mixed Teaching and Research positions. The workload percentage would instead be determined by the relevant Dean or Head of School. The changes proposed by the University would see class sizes, the level of course taught, and other similar factors cease to be considered when assessing a staff member’s teaching load.

The NTEU demands that the proposed changes be rejected, that workload formulas be “evidence-based and accurately reflect the time taken to do all allocated work,” and that the amount of work staff complete is capped at 1610 hours a year. 

The Union’s demand for a 15% or Consumer Price Index (CPI) + 1.5% pay increase (whichever is greater) is yet to be met by University management. 

In the wake of over 700 UNSW staff being made redundant since 2020, UNSW management is seeking to remove review committees for redundancies resulting from a restructure for academic staff. The NTEU is seeking better protections for staff against redundancies.

Other matters including a review of workloads for professional staff after workplace change, and better regulation of on-call arrangements are central to the NTEU’s demands. 

UNSW Students’ Representative Council Education Officer, Cherish Kuehlmann told Honi, “UNSW management have refused to meet staff demands for a pay rise, fair workloads,  job security and more. This comes off the back of UNSW overseeing the most FTE [full time equivalent] redundancies of any Australian university since 2020, reporting a $360 million surplus in 2021 and our Vice Chancellor earning over $1 million annually.

“Management should give staff the pay rise and conditions they deserve. If staff win their demands, this will only improve our education at UNSW, so we should support staff in their fight.”

Expansions to EFRs are similarly a key issue in enterprise bargaining at the University of Sydney, as Provost Annamarie Jagose repeatedly compares USyd’s plans for this expansion to provisions for EFRs under UNSW’s previous enterprise agreement.

Staff at Deakin University and Curtin University are also taking strike action this week, with staff at the University of Melbourne undertaking other forms of industrial action.

In a comment to Honi, UNSW NTEU said, “The union has been negotiating for more than a year, and is seeking a significant reduction in casual work, and equivalent conversion of casual work to ongoing employment. The union seeks to provide a secure work environment for staff and continuity of support for students.

“The union is fighting for stronger job security protections. UNSW had massive staff cuts in 2021 but returned an operating surplus of $223 million. NTEU members report that the impact of this has been felt in increased workloads across the University.

“Members are seeking to strengthen the regulation of academic workloads to ensure a safe working environment with adequate time to support student education. Other issues under negotiation include protection of member superannuation, intellectual freedom protections for all staff, an improved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment target, and a fair pay rise.

“The Union has written to the Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs to ask him to intervene constructively in the enterprise bargaining process.

“There will be a lunchtime rally at UNSW on May 3.”