Uni Melb continues to overlook staff pleas for better working conditions

Uni Melb continues to overlook staff pleas for better working conditions

Following a historic, week-long staff strike at the University of Melbourne (UoM), the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) bargaining team walked out of negotiations on September 4 after university management failed to acknowledge the union’s core demands.

NTEU members from the Arts faculty, School of Law, library and student services, and Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) campus participated in an industrial action strike from August 28 to September 3 to negotiate better working conditions (as reported in the September edition of Inner City News), with insecure work being one of the union’s top priorities.

Despite thousands of classes being cancelled throughout the week, the NTEU bargaining team did not receive a response from university management until the afternoon of September 1, five days into the seven-day strike.

With no proposal put forward by management to address secure work, the bargaining team walked out of negotiations the following week in frustration of their failure to recognise the damaging effects of insecure work on UoM staff.

“Management has shown disrespect and disregard for workers throughout this negotiation process,” NTEU Victorian division assistant secretary, Joo-Cheong Tham said in an NTEU bargaining update.

“Until we receive a proposal on secure work, we have told management there is nothing for us to discuss,” Mr Tham said.

Over a two-week break in negotiation, university management has since responded to the NTEU’s original recommendation for 80 per cent of staff to be put on ongoing contracts by the end of 2025, however there is still “much more distance to run and considerable work to do.”

Management's counter offer is to place 75 per cent of staff on a 12 month contract or longer, but it is not clear whether UoM already meets this threshold.

James Murphy is a lecturer and tutor in political science at the university and has been in a dedicated teaching role for the past five years. Despite this, he says that under management’s new proposal, “nothing would change for someone like [him].”

“They think ‘12 months plus’ equals ‘secure’, and we disagree,” Mr Murphy said.

As well as addressing insecure work, the NTEU is also pushing for a stronger proposal from university management to provide “safe and sustainable” workloads, with staff walking off the job again on September 15 to protest the issue.

“Workloads have reached something of a crisis point at Australian universities, and many of the proposals from UoM management would worsen things even further,” graduate researcher in media and communications at UoM, Geoffrey Hondroudakis told Inner City News.

“If universities go down this path of overworking academics and neglecting research in workloads, then we’ll increasingly – as we’ve already been seeing – have decreases in the quality of teaching and research across the board, in ways that will compound over time to everyone’s detriment.”

Plans for an additional week-long strike from October 2 to October 8 are being finalised by the NTEU in hope that management will respond with stronger proposals that support staff.

For updates, visit: unimelbebanow.com

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