Yesterday, more than 100 cars, bikes and protestors surrounded Liberal Party headquarters to demand adequate funding for universities during the COVID-19 crisis. National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members from USyd, UNSW, UTS and WSU lead the convoy, supported by students and the May 1 movement.
The COVID-19 crisis has seen a massive decrease in revenue for many Australian universities, with USyd facing a $470shortfall. Staff have carried much of this burden. Universities Australia estimates around 21,000 jobs will be cut during the crisis. Last month Education Minister Dan Tehan proposed a funding package for universities, however the government has refused to allow universities to access JobKeeper payments, leaving many staff and especially casuals at risk.
Among the convoy was a prominent “Vote No to Concessions” contingent, a rank-and-file fightback to the pay cuts proposed by the Union’s national leadership. The current framework proposes a pay cut in exchange for job security, and has faced significant internal pushback, with UTS NTEU member Padraig Gibson likening the proposal to similar agreements during the Great Depression.
Following the convoy a contingent of NTEU members and students protested outside the USyd F23 administration building. Chaired by Nick Reimer (USyd NTEU branch), a number of people, including student Jordi Pardoel, Padraig Gibson and Anna Hush (UNSW casuals network) spoke against the proposed cuts and especially the current job losses, staff conditions and course cuts at USyd.
The group proceeded to the quadrangle, where police arrived to enforce physical distancing but did not disperse the protestors. Rob Boncardo of the USyd NTEU spoke about the proposed 30 per cent decrease of courses within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, cuts to casuals and the normalisation of wage theft. Currently staff are expected to spend two hours of preparation for each one hour of teaching, however Boncardo explained “this is closer to eight hours for each hour of teaching,” including unpaid consultation and other labour.
A petition by casual staff with over 300 signatures against the course cuts was attached to the door of Annamarie Jagose, Dean of the Faculty, before the mock-procession of a coffin symbolising the death of higher education back towards the F23 building. The protestors were issued a move-on order by two police after several chants.
In direct response to this protest, USyd staff last night received an email from the Dean confirming that proposed course cuts to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) of 30 per cent will be reduced to a maximum of 8 per cent for Semester 2. Although the decrease in course cuts is a win for staff and students, it is still unclear which courses will be cut. Yet despite fears that the cuts will be rolled out gradually rather than immediately, many are glad that 70 per cent of the cut courses will still run as usual this year.