Staff and students from Brisbane’s universities rallied at King George Square last Thursday in protest of working conditions and remuneration.
National Tertiary Education Union members from Australian Catholic University, Griffith, the Queensland University of Technology, and the University of Queensland gathered at 1pm for an hour on October 20th to draw attention to ongoing enterprise bargaining between university staff and management.
Speaking to more than 300 people in attendance, NTEU Queensland secretary Michael McNally blamed government and university management for staff dissatisfaction, and said staff will keep fighting for a real pay rise, secure jobs, and safe workloads.
‘Every casual is a person,’ McNally said.
‘And every person on a fixed term contract stares down the barrel of insecure employment.’
‘UQ made a $340 million profit in 2021, but say they can’t afford a serious casual agreement.’
‘Money from student fees needs to be returned to unpaid staff and students.’
From 2011-2021, QUT’s cash assets rose from $300 million to almost $1 billion.
The first of several speakers, NTEU National president Dr Alison Barnes said she hoped the action would inspire ‘solidarity and strength’ for university staff throughout Australia.
‘Staff across [the] sector deserve a fair pay rise,’ Dr Barnes said to the staff members present.
‘They must take care of their most indispensable assets – you.’
Dr Barnes also had a message for university management: ‘bargain with us seriously.’
‘It’s time to end the scourge of insecure employment putting staff wellbeing at risk.’
QUT NTEU member Stacey Lowe, said she had worked at the university for 15 years, and recalled having to make her meagre wage ‘spread over the lean months.’
‘I did a lot of unpaid hours,’ Lowe said.
‘I couldn’t get a home loan with my casual contracts.’
‘When I was finally offered 6–12-month fixed term contracts, I’d been there for seven years.’
‘Weeks from the end of my contract, I would hear if it would be renewed for another term, which is not ideal for a primary wage earner.’
Lowe said the eventual restructure from which she gained a more permanent contract also made about two-thirds of her colleagues redundant.
‘My work today relies on underpaid staff,’ Lowe said.
‘With union help, my colleagues organised to request permanent contracts – some successful, some not.’
‘Management completely ignored their contribution to the work.’
‘Contract to contract, financial instability, watching colleagues lose jobs – it’s not just me.’
‘I care about my work, I care about my workplace, I care about students – that’s why we’re talking about job-security.’
A QUT spokesperson said the university ‘respects the rights’ of staff to strike, and to organise rallies.
‘QUT respects the right of those staff who are members of the NTEU to undertake protected industrial action as part of that process, and we have been working with the NTEU to ensure that the impact on students will be minimised,’ the spokesperson said.
‘We continue to work with the National Tertiary Education Union and the individual bargaining representative to ensure fair and equitable enterprise agreements, and will be making a wage offer on November 2nd.’
‘QUT takes the job security of staff very seriously.’
NTEU members at Griffith University presented a log of claims to university management 12 months ago, and are still without an enterprise agreement going into 2023.
Kim Walders, lecturer in Health Sciences and Social work lecturer at Griffith, spoke about staff experiences of working weekends without pay.
‘Long hours, no breaks, overtime, and working weekends for no pay are all the norm and is not just expected but virtually demanded of us,’ Walder said.
‘For too long our goodwill, dedication, love of our work, and love of students has been taken advantage of,’ Walder said.
‘Universities are squireling away money into investment funds and white elephant facilities.’
‘Massive job cuts occurred across all universities in response to the anticipated impact of Covid, but in reality Griffith are so inept at budgetary management that they didn’t even come close to predicting the financial impact.’
‘Devastating negative financial implications were not realised, and instead massive profits were made.’
‘As a result of this ineptitude many staff lost their jobs, and those fortunate to hold onto positions have escalating workloads.’
‘This inability to manage finances is also the reason we are being told Griffith is not even close to being able to make a wage offer.’
Walder also slammed Griffith for their tactics throughout the bargaining period, accusing the University of missing meetings, failing to reply to emails, and providing relevant documents to union representatives less than an hour prior to a meeting.
When asked to respond to these allegations, a Griffith University spokesperson told Glass that they ‘don’t have anyone to respond to this.’
University of Queensland Student Union Secretary Cara Rowe spoke on behalf of the many students in attendance, echoing the familiar catch-cry, ‘staff working conditions are student learning conditions.’
‘Student solidarity is so important,’ Rowe said.
‘Universities are not just degree factories.’
‘Right now, UQ are talking about Indigenising their curriculum, but they won’t even agree to the First Nations staff claim presented by the NTEU.’
Rowe also called out UQ Vice-Chancellor Deborah Terry, who students allege to have seen being chauffeured around the UQ campus in a Tesla.
UQ disputes this claim, and said in a statement that they will continue to ‘bargain in good faith’ with staff.
‘The University is continuing to bargain in good faith to ensure a new enterprise agreement is finalised as soon as possible,’ a spokesperson from UQ said.
‘UQ acknowledges the impact the current economic environment is having on staff, and that all parties involved in the negotiations want to provide certainty about employment terms and conditions and sustainable wage increases for the coming years.’
UQ’s 2021 annual report showed an operating surplus of over $350 million.
QUT Student Guild president Oscar Davison echoed student concerns across from across the city, calling on universities to show staff they are appreciated.
‘The staff are the ones to give us our education,’ Davison said.
‘As students, we can feel the pressure our staff are under every day on campus, and in our classes.’
‘When staff have better working conditions, it directly benefits the learning outcomes of students.’
‘I’ve heard many times this year that “students are the priority,” but students cannot be a priority, while the people who maintain our facilities and educate us aren’t taken care of and celebrated.’
Elsewhere in the State, NTEU members at Central Queensland University have voted in favour of taking industrial action for the first time in a decade.
James Cook University staff are also currently on strike, and staff at the University of the Sunshine Coast have this week begun enterprise bargaining.
The rally was attended by members of QNMU, IEU, CFMEU, and Socialist Alternative.
For more information, check out Glass’ ongoing coverage of NTEU bargaining:
Read more about staff demands, here.
Read more about QUT staff strikes, here.
Read more about enterprise bargaining, here.