The QUT branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action against the Queensland University of Technology later this semester.
Conducted late last week, the poll followed six months of enterprise bargaining between the NTEU and QUT, and paves the way for the first industrial action at the University since 2019.
Nothing has been confirmed yet regarding dates or timeframes, but union members at QUT recorded the highest turnout in the sector for a poll of this kind, according to NTEU insiders.
Secretary of the NTEU Queensland Division Michael McNally said the results achieved were ‘outstanding.’
‘95% of those who voted support strike action,’ McNally said.
Voters were asked by the Fair Work Commission:
‘In support of reaching an Enterprise Agreement with Queensland University of Technology, do you authorise industrial action against your employer, separately, concurrently and/or consecutively, in the form of:
A ban on the transmission of assessment results to the employer?
Making statements explaining why NTEU members are taking industrial action in communications with any person whilst working?
A ban on working overtime?
A ban on working outside the span of hours?
Ban on attending workplace meetings with supervisors/manager/Dean?
A ban on participation in Queensland University of Technology events?
A ban on the submission of invoices?
Stoppages of the performance of work of between 5 minutes and 24 hours in duration?
Indefinite stoppages of work?
Members voted overwhelmingly in favour of authorising all the above actions.
The student to staff ratio at QUT has risen to 11.5:1, which staff representatives say requires a significant productivity increase for academics that has not been reflected in their remuneration.
QUT NTEU Branch president, Associate Professor David Nielsen, says concessions around staff workload, work intensification, and job security are central to the union’s claims.
‘There’s a lot of dissatisfaction around these very important issues,’ Nielsen said.
‘There’s a lot of energy to take industrial action from our members – for an action to get up you need an absolute majority of members, so the result is overwhelming.’
‘Staff are not doing this out of greed, there is a very strong recognition amongst staff that the taking of industrial action will benefit of the entire QUT community.’
The union says strike action will likely start small and escalate as needed, but members are hopeful large boycotts won’t be necessary.
‘Withholding results from students would be a tremendous imposition on students and we are aware, but the fundamental fact is that student learning conditions are tied to staff working conditions,’ Nielsen said.
‘We are still negotiating in good faith and making progress, but if we meet an impasse, industrial action is there to forcefully express that staff want a better outcome.’
While intentions to strike are dependent on bargaining progress, the union must also wait for the Fair Work Commission to grant them a protection order, allowing members to strike without repercussions.
According to QUT’s 2021 Annual Report, employer-related expenses decreased from $625.3 million to $605.5 million last year, about 59% of their total expenditure.
The University currently has $72 million in unallocated funds, in addition to a surplus of over $138 million, which Nielsen calls ‘rainy day’ funds.
‘An ideal opportunity for that surplus to be deployed was during COVID because that was a significantly rainy day,’ he said.
‘I believe QUT is a very healthy financial entity and that it can afford to provide good outcomes for staff and students.’
A spokesperson for the University said negotiations are still ongoing.
‘So far there have been ten bargaining meetings with the University, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and individual bargaining representatives,’ they said.
‘We are still in negotiations and cannot comment on various claims, however, student concerns are at the forefront of our planning to ensure we can address their needs while still providing appropriate outcomes for our staff.’
In a statement, the QUT Student Guild president Oscar Davison said he supported the move to industrial action.
‘The QUT Student Guild stands with our comrades at the NTEU,’ he said.
‘While it is a shame that industrial action is now necessary, I support QUT Staff in any action they take, and call upon QUT students to support the staff who facilitate their education, and stand with the NTEU.’
The Fair Work Commission is expected to grant a protection order to QUT union members early next week.
What are staff bargaining for?
The NTEU have logged the following claims with QUT:
- Salary rates and allowances for all NTEU members employed by QUT to be increased by 12% by 31 December 2024
- Ordinary hours for professional staff to be no more than 36.25 hours per week between 8am-6pm Monday to Friday
- Caps on academic workloads – the University must actually measure academic work in a real way so staff aren’t required to mark a 1,500-word essay in 15 minutes (currently, the union says doing the job properly means working unpaid hours).
- Protections against excessive or uncompensated overtime
- Protection against work intensification as a result of organisational change
- Work from home rights for all staff, and appropriate protections and allowances for professional WFH staff
- 17% employer superannuation contributions
- Lawful conditions and requirements on the outsourcing of work / use of contractors that a staff member or future staff member is capable of performing
- No individual to be subject to organisational change process for the duration of the enterprise agreement – the University can’t restructure staff out of jobs
- Retrenchment, including voluntary retrenchment, only to occur where the position is no longer required
- The right to conversion to permanent employment after three years of continuous service or two successive contracts
- Gender affirmation leave