Staff and students protest casualisation

8 May 2019

University of Melbourne staff and students protested against the increasing casualisation of staff today in front of the Raymond Priestly Building.

The rally was held from 12pm to 1:30pm, where a group of around 70 gathered in front of the building that houses Chancellery to call for more secure employment and more equitable treatment by university management. It was organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). University management responded during the sit-in, scheduling a meeting with NTEU representatives for next week.

The rally included speeches from several casual university staff members, a number of them students themselves, calling out the university for treating casual staff as “second class citizens”.

Around 72 per cent of all University staff are currently on short-term casual contracts or fixed-term contracts.

Their demands are listed in an open letter to Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell: “All casual staff to be reimbursed for the working with children check (WWCC); An end to casual staff email being cut off in between semester; Student consultation and desk space for all casual staff and PhD researchers; That casual and sessional staff are paid for all hours worked; Secure and permanent work for all casual staff that want this as an option.”

Since February, the NTEU has been campaigning for the University to cover costs of a newly implemented WWCC requirement. In addition, the NTEU has been campaigning over the recent months for better working conditions such as email access and desk space.

Annette Herrera, the casual employees representative on the NTEU committee and one of the organisers of today’s protest, said, “In April, the NTEU met with the HR management and we asked for equitable treatment of staff. And what have we heard so far from management? We’ll get back to you.”

“Casual staff demand dignity of work, we demand fair pay and we demand job security,” Herrera said.

Nic Kimberley, the Victorian president of the NTEU, said to the crowd, “Enough is enough. We are not going to tolerate any more of this bullshit.”

Steve Adams, president of the University of Melbourne NTEU branch, said the University’s attitude was “grossly unfair”, and believes the University will meet their demands at the meeting next week.

Farrago spoke to several university staff members that attended the protest. An NTEU delegate and casual tutor who wished to remain anonymous said the University currently has a “broken model”. According to him, casual staff are taking on enormous workloads and now have responsibilities at the level of permanent staff.

“Traditionally casual work has been understood as an opportunity to develop teaching experience which will provide a springboard into a full time role… [however] talented and highly qualified academics are trapped in a cycle of precarious work—the full time jobs they should be moving into simply don’t exist,” he said.

Protestors also emphasised the impact casualisation has on students, and stood in solidarity with international students given the recent Four Corners episode ‘Cash Cows’ and subsequent open letter from a group of members of the NTEU to the National Office.

“As an alumna of this university I know first hand that the work of casual staff is what adds value to the student experience – they are our tutors, mentors, lecturers. It was my long term casual lecturers that inspired and shaped my education here as a postgraduate student and why I speak up and speak out today,” Herrera said.

Aisyah Huzani, an international student activist, said, “Universities are becoming corporations and education is becoming a commodity.”

The protest today was endorsed by the University of Melbourne Student Union’s Queer department.

Andie Moore, one of the Queer office bearers, said, “This morning, the Queer committee endorsed the NTEU’s speak-out against shocking rates of casualisation on campus, and I was proud to be out there in solidarity with my lecturers and tutors demanding secure work and fair pay.”

“Staff working conditions are our student learning conditions—so it’s so vital departments and students get out there and back staff.”

In a statement, UMSU President Molly Willmott wrote, “UMSU calls on these concerns to be addressed by university management. UMSU stands in solidarity with the NTEU in this struggle, and calls on students to support casualised staff members at future demonstrations, and wherever possible.”

Correction: The letter about the 4 Corners program is not a letter from the NTEU. It is a letter from members within the NTEU asking the National Office to disassociate the organisation from the program. 

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