The University of Melbourne’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) branch is preparing for seven days of strike action next week, beginning with a rally during a weekend Open Day. Work will stop at midday on Monday August 28 in the Faculty of Arts, Melbourne Law School, the Victorian College of the Arts, student services, and the library.
”We had asked management to deliver us two proposals on decasualization and pay in order for us to call off doing open action. They refused to give us those proposals. So we gathered and we spoke to prospective students and parents and asked them to contribute to our strike fund for the strike next week.” David Gonzalez, University of Melbourne NTEU branch president, told Honi.
The rally occupied the Student Amphitheatre and consisted of testimonies from staff affected by insecure work and unfair wages. A mascot, Barry the Bear-ly paid a minimum wage, posed for photos with prospective students, and staff shared their reasons for taking industrial action in anticipation of the upcoming strike.
The road to strike action has been complicated, according to University of Melbourne Branch President David Gonzalez. A vote to take 5 days of stop-work action failed by a few votes, and the Union then resolved to take half a day of action. The Union then followed a model of voting used at the University of California Los Angeles, taking smaller votes, workplace by workplace, to determine whether strike action was appropriate. Since then, the Faculty of Arts, the Law School, the Library, and the Victorian College of Arts have decided to take strike action.
“We started with only the arts faculty and then all of those others jumped on board. I cried several times. I can’t believe that people were willing to sacrifice their pay for a week.
“I think these issues are important, but then when you go out, talk to members, and they really feel it and believe it, and are putting their money where their mouth is, it’s really encouraging to see and so opposite of what we get from management.” Gonzalez told Honi.
The NTEU has been engaged in enterprise bargaining with University Management for over a year, and management recently sought a two-week pause to enterprise bargaining. The university claims that they have made an in-principle agreement on a range of matters. However union members dispute this, saying that claims such as overwork have not yet been addressed.
Staff are fighting for fair pay, job security, and protections against overwork. They are demanding a 15% pay rise over three years, citing inflation and increased cost of living pressures as key factors.
The ombudsman forced the University to repay $45 million in wage theft in what has since been described as “industrial scale wage theft” by NTEU National president Alison Barnes, who since labelled UniMelb as the country’s worst university for underpayment of staff.