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“Shame on you, Duncan!”: Students and staff rally against casualisation at Melbourne University

University of Melbourne staff and students rallied outside Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell’s Parkville mansion yesterday in opposition to the University’s growing casualisation of teaching staff.

University of Melbourne staff and students rallied outside Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell’s Parkville mansion yesterday in opposition to the University’s growing casualisation of teaching staff.

The protest was organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Melbourne University Casuals Network. Among University staff and students, unionists from the Victorian Trades Hall Council and United Workers Union were also in attendance.

This protest comes after casual staff with PhDs were met with a 15% pay cut after the University removed the PhD rate this year. The NTEU also claims that the Vice-Chancellor has converted less than 1% of casual staff.


Protestors at the rally in front of Duncan Maskell's $7.1 million Parkville mansion. Signs read "Casualisation kills! Permnanent jobs NOW", "Research Teaching Better Together". Photograph by Joanna Guelas.

“We’re standing here as a collective… which means we’re not taking that crap any longer,” said NTEU Casual Representative Nicholas Robinson.

Protesters’ demands included 200 new early career fellowships, the conversion of eligible casual staff to secure forms of work, reinstating the PhD pay rate, and a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor open for all casuals to attend.

NTEU Branch Organiser Ben Kunkler says he remains unconvinced of the University’s commitment to casuals. Maskell has formally apologised for the underpayment and wage theft of casual staff however, protestors feel that there has been no “real action” to remedy the lack of secure work.

“Casuals feel like they’re second-class citizens at the University,” said Kunkler.

Philosophy tutor Anya Daly reiterates these sentiments, recounting an anecdote from one casual who “could not access rental accommodation and so lived in 23 different places across three years”.

Maskell’s mansion, Cumnock House, was a key target of protesters’ criticism. The $7.1 million Victorian-era mansion is described by the NTEU as “a symbol of the inequity facing employees at the country’s wealthiest university where top management enjoy some of the highest salaries and benefits while casual staff suffer under conditions that have included wage theft, no career path and a devaluing of their work”.


Protestors at the rally in front of Duncan Maskell's $7.1 million Parkville mansion. Signs read "Sorry isn't good enough Duncan", "Don't be a dunce", "Invest in staff, not buildings!". Photograph by Joanna Guelas.

In response to the protest, a University spokesperson claimed that the University's “approach to workforce planning will … aim to reduce our reliance on casual employment” but that “the Union’s demands for 200 new Melbourne Early Career Academic Fellowship positions does not accord with the current 2018 enterprise agreement and so is a matter for the next bargaining agreement”.

The NTEU have said they have no intention to ease up on their demand; they intend for their campaign to continue into 2022 and beyond.

“We strike until we win—[we want] not just 200, but hundreds and hundreds of jobs,” said NTEU delegate and Melbourne Branch Committee member Geraldine Fela.

Maskell did not make an appearance at the protest.

 
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