University staff across the country have voted to prepare for unprotected industrial action as they protest widespread job cuts, a lack of federal government funding, and the government’s changes to degrees.
A group of hundreds of academic staff, called the National Higher Education Action Network, voted on Monday afternoon to endorse a plan of protests “with the goal of making democratically planned unprotected industrial action possible”.
This year the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales have announced job cuts as they face billions of dollars of lost revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Public universities are not eligible for jobkeeper and in June the education minister, Dan Tehan, announced sweeping changes that would cut the overall government funding for degrees.
Last week, the University of Sydney confirmed that it had sent an email asking staff to “suggest” how to cut up to 30% of jobs in some faculties.
Monday’s meeting, which had approximately 460 attendees from all of Australia’s major universities, called on the federal government to increase its funding to universities and guarantee jobs during the pandemic.
Its motions, including those calling for unprotected industrial action, were carried with 96% of people voting in favour.
“It was an absolutely national meeting,” said Dr Nick Riemer, a member of the NHEAN and an academic at the University of Sydney. “The conditions we are being asked to work under at the moment are simply intolerable. And the government’s plan for the future of universities are a serious threat to young people and to society.
“People are so outraged at the job cuts, at the changes to universities, that they are ready to stop working. There is a lot of anger in universities at the moment.”
Riemer told Guardian Australia that similar unprotected action had been taken by journalists at the former Fairfax newspapers during job cuts in 2017.
Unprotected industrial action includes strikes or work stoppages that are held outside specific circumstances during an enterprise bargaining agreement’s negotiation period. It can result in large fines for both unions and individual workers.
“In 2017, Fairfax journalists at the time of the job cuts, they walked off for a week in unprotected industrial action, and no one was prosecuted for that,” Riemer said.
“The crisis in higher education is so severe, and the Tehan reforms which are promising to take even more government money out of universities are just going to exacerbate it. We think now is the time.”
The NEAHN will hold further meetings to discuss what the industrial action will involve, with Riemer saying that it would be “developed collectively and democratically” by members.
The group is not officially affiliated with the National Tertiary Education Union, but contains rank and file members of the NTEU, and seven individual NTEU branches endorsed Monday’s meeting.
“Striking is recognised at a very basic right of working people and it is unacceptable that it is restricted as it in this country,” Riemer said. “It is very clear that we need to withdraw our labour in order to bring about the political reset that is needed.”
Source: The Guardian