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Western Sydney Uni gears up for more strikes after Union meeting

WSU strike for better staff pay on June 7. Photo: Supplied.

By SHARLOTTE THOU

Western Sydney University (WSU) is gearing up to continue fighting for fair pay, after a motion was passed at a recent WSU union meeting to “prepare for further strike action”.

The WSU branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has decided to strike “early as practicable in Spring semester, and for various types of more limited actions and campaign activities in the period between semesters”.

The motion also detailed that these activities will continue “unabated until a decent pay outcome is reached”.

President of the WSU branch of the NTEU David Burchell said that he was interested in thinking of “creative ways to mess with the heads of University management”.

Speaking to City Hub, WSU casual academic Dr Cali Prince said that this could entail “creative approaches, as well as social media strategies with further actions on the ground”.

Packed line-up of speakers at WSU strike earlier in the month

Both Dr Burchell and Dr Prince attended a NTEU organised strike at WSU on June 7, in which staff and the WSU College rallied together to push for greater pay and job security.

Dr Prince spoke at the strike, highlighting the prevalence of casualised work in Australian universities even though (quoting NSW NTEU Secretary Damien Cahill) “much of the work casual staff do is not casual in nature”.

She addressed the significant financial hardships that casual academics at the University of Western Sydney have faced, including a lack of job security, where many “struggle to make a living wage”. She added that it was common to see “casuals doing unpaid labour, with insecure work, treated as a second-rate workforce”.

Dr Prince notes that WSU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Barney Glover has previously committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which includes a commitment to addressing inequality.

“Western Sydney University must and can do better. If the University is truly committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals in an ongoing and sustainable way, these issues cannot be ignored any longer” Dr Prince said.

Western Sydney University Staff

Western Sydney University Staff dressed as a cow to protest pay at WSU. Photo: Supplied.

Labor Senator Tony Sheldon and Greens Senator and Mehreen Faruqi also spoke at the event, criticising WSU’s current approach, and expressing hope for the future of higher education with the recent change of government.

“Right here at Western Sydney University, we’re seeing why a corporatised university management has the gall to only offer a pay increase of two per cent when inflation is 5.1 per cent,” Mr Sheldon said.

“At a time when families are struggling with increasing grocery bills, Barney Glover’s university management has put an offer on the table that would send its own workforce backwards in real terms.”

Dr Prince described the strike as a “creative, committed, creative, lively and diverse gathering”.

She told City Hub that the exploitation of casual workers was “unacceptable”, and it was important for her to say “’no’ to universities eroding working conditions, ‘no’ to the increasingly invisible or hidden force of casualisation, and ‘no’ to the exploitation of casual staff”.

Looking forwards, Dr Prince believes that future strikes will be “necessary and are in the pipeline”.

“Never underestimate how small creative disruptions, incrementally over time, can create significant effects.”

Union still in bargaining negotiations with WSU 

Dr Burchell said that the union is still working towards an enterprise bargaining agreement with WSU, after the agreement has been in the works for over 12 months.

He said that some clauses in the agreements that were “not yet resolved” were in most cases “fairly near resolution”, with the exception of clauses relating to pay.

Dr Burchell condemned an offer of a pay rise proposed by University Management as “grossly inadequate”, amounting to a “mere 2.6% [pay rise] for most staff, and no more than 2.9% for any staff member”.

He additionally stated that the “proposed reduction of the casual conversion scheme by 50% would render such a scheme completely toothless”.

Cake

A cake made for the WSU strike, saying “The Western Budget Stuff Staff”. Photo: Supplied.

The strike follows similar action at the University of Sydney, where a three-day protest resulted in a 2.1% pay raise and a one off $1000 payment for staff.

Similar to Sydney University’s massive 2021 surplus, Western Sydney University reported a $143 million surplus, which was nearly double the amount of the year prior.

The announcement that WSU will continue to strike came just days before the Fair Work Ombudsman announced that University staff pay would be a main priority of its 2022/2023 investigations.

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