After months of negotiations over a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) University staff have voted to strike in week one.
The 24 hour strike is now confirmed for March 7, the first Thursday of classes. It may also be followed by another 48 hour strike the next week.
Though the University has claimed strikes will hurt students, SRC President David Pink has pledged support.
“The EBA doesn’t just affect staff… we all benefit from good teachers with quality working conditions,” he said. Pink is organising a solidarity picket and, “welcomes any student or community member to join in.”
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has objected to a number of changes proposed in a draft EBA put forward by University management. Aside from disputes about conditions, the NTEU is calling for a pay increase of seven percent a year for each year the Agreement is in effect. The University is offering two percent.
The University has responded to the NTEU’s objections by claiming the draft Agreement is designed to allow greater workplace flexibility.
“The University’s priority is to reach a responsible Agreement which is in the best interests of all staff and students. To be a modern, competitive university … we need to make changes,” University spokesperson Andrew Potter said in an email to Honi Soit.
But the NTEU has already claimed victory in one of the skirmishes being fought around the EBA. The Vice-Chancellor has agreed to recommend the retention of a clause in the Agreement that guarantees academics intellectual freedom and the right to criticise the University. The clause was initially dropped from the new Agreement on the grounds it was enshrined elsewhere in University policy.
Staff had been vocal in their opposition to the clause’s removal.
“It’s appalling to play with things that are so important,” said Dr Chris Murphy, from the School of Medical Sciences.
In an email to all staff, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence played down the backflip.
“I accept that [the clause’s] removal from the draft Agreement has caused unnecessary anxiety and suspicion among some staff and for that I apologise,” he wrote.
Among staff, 2012 is remembered as a year of staff cuts, departmental restructuring and continuous frustration with management.
“There is a lot of disenchantment amongst the troops,” Dr Murphy said.