NTEU Rally 2023: ANU Staff & Students Strike Over “Insecure Work”
By Ariane Charruyer-Pouw & James Weatherman
On Tuesday 2 May, approximately 100 students, staff, union members, and other protesters gathered in Kambri for the “#BetterANU” rally. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) hosted the rally, in coordination with several other universities across Australia.
These protests focused on shared NTEU goals, including “fair salaries, better job security, healthy workloads and flexible work for staff.” The rally at ANU happened amidst other NTEU protests at universities across Australia, all of which contribute towards their National Week of Action #BetterUnisNWA campaign.
From Monday 1 May to Friday 5 May, strikes, rallies and discussions around key issues of the campaign took place at UNSW Canberra, UC, and the Australian Catholic University (ACU).
At ANU, protestors gathered at the Kambri amphitheatre at 12pm to support “union claims for fair salaries, healthy workloads, better job security & flexible work”.
ANUSA President Ben Yates, and Vice-President Grace King promoted the protest, which is part of the NTEU’s National Week of Action, during SRC 3. At the ANU rally, NTEU ANU Branch President Milan Pintos-Lopez spoke first, reiterating the primary demands campaigned for: “fairer salaries, better job security, healthy workloads and flexible working conditions.”
ACT Division Secretary of the NTEU, Dr. Lachlan Clohesy, commented on the need for fairer salaries to compensate “the staff that run the show” and accommodate for “the rising costs of living and interest rates.”
NTEU spokesperson Dr. Belinda Townsend expanded on this, stating how salaries “affect decisions like mortgage and having a family.” This comes in response to the Reserve Bank of Australia stating that inflation has reached 7.7% in 2022. Subsequently, the Canberra rental market sits as the highest of all capital cities.
To accomodate for living pressures, NTEU ANU is demanding a 15% pay rise or a CPI+1.5% by December 2024.
At the protest, ANUSA President Ben Yates, likened ANU to a “university which sits upon rivers of gold.” Expanding upon fairer salary demands, Yates stated that “when management says they cannot afford a pay raise, that is a lie.”
In response, an ANU spokesperson acknowledged how post-pandemic years had been especially “difficult for many staff members.” They referenced the pay increase of 3.5% enacted from February this year as a payment to “ensure our community had additional support in coping with the rising cost of living.”
This saw a modification of the Academic staff salary schedule under the ANU Enterprise Agreement. For instance, the annual salary for a Level A academic staff member increased from $76,271 in 2022 to $78,940 in 2023, reflecting a marginal change of $2,669.
Amidst these purported low salaries and cost cuts, ANU has directed funds towards renovation and property development, such as the renovation at Chifley Library, to the extent that Dr Townsend at the rally likened ANU to a “property developer with a side hustle in education.”
The NTEU ACT Assistant Division Secretary, Dr Lina Koleilat, commented on the ad hoc casual hours required of tutors during the protest, stating that “we don’t get paid for attending lectures… for office hours”. Her vexation is moreover rooted in the current award for university staff, claiming “it is outdated.”
A primary issue for the current awards system resides within the lack of compensation for overtime allowances that has been seen nationally. An anonymous academic in The Guardian described the struggles with ad hoc casual hours required of tutors and course materials as “cobbled together during the semester.” He echoes the sentiments of university tutors and professors of “how can we get through this next 12 weeks without everything falling off the rails?”
Observer interviewed an anonymous ANU tutor within CECS, who found the weekly workload “typically manageable,” however “during marking season, the workload is almost unbearable.” He commented on the difficulty of time management during marking season, “I have been given an assignment to mark recently and the first 7 submissions took me 5 hours to mark. I have been given 50 submissions to mark.”
In light of this, they also revealed that some tutors only “claim half the marking hours on their timesheet because they felt guilty for exceeding the recommended number of hours, although this is almost unavoidable.”
NTEU ANU Branch President Millan Pintos-Lopez cited the casualisation of the ANU workforce as the most prominent threat to ANU job security. NTEU aims to achieve greater job security by lobbying for “193 casual ANU employees to secure full-time” contracts.
Adjacently, ANUSA President Ben Yates also signalled his frustration with the issue at the rally, when he said that “precarious employment is antithetical to the community of scholarship that we expect.”
Dr Lachlan Clohesy stated that the NTEU have been “meeting since November” with the ANU Bargaining Team to negotiate their goal of greater security, however, he also emphasises that they “gave claims back in June” and “we haven’t yet gotten sufficient response to key claims.”
Dr Clohesy further explained that in the upcoming bargaining meetings they will “be voting on whether to initiate a protected action ballot in the near future, which will then give us the right to take protected industrial action, including strike action.”
Taking this into consideration, an ANU Spokesperson stated that “job security is important to the University and our employees”. When asked how they plan to proceed with the NTEU’s demands, they said that “as part of the NTEU Log of Claims, this is a matter that will be discussed in upcoming bargaining sessions”.
The final demand of the NTEU is more flexible work for university staff. Specifically, as found on their pamphlet, “enhanced rights to vary hours and work flexibly, and genuine opportunity for staff to work from home”.
At the rally, protesters were clutching signs that called for rights such as gender affirmation leave. Dr Townsend recalled one anecdote where a colleague was required to return to work at the university nine days after going into labour out of fear of losing her job.
Dr Clohesy clarified with Observer that the NTEU does “not consider strike action lightly,” and whether or not union members will strike is “up to ANU Senior Management.” He concluded that the union members “are prepared to strike if necessary.”
Dr Townsend commented also on student solidarity, claiming hopefully that “collective action can make a difference.” The efficacy of collective action will be tested in the upcoming enterprise negotiations on the 11th of May.
The full log of NTEU claims can be found here.
By Ariane Charruyer-Pouw and James Weatherman
Photography by Christopher Dyer
Graphics by Will Novak
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