UNSW staff strike against workload pressure

Staff at the University of New South Wales walked off the job for 24 hours over workload concerns on 30 May. The strike was part of the NTEU’s campaign for a new workplace agreement. 

More than 100 workers picketed the main gates of the university’s Kensington campus. Around 100 students joined in solidarity, as well several workers and students from other universities across Sydney.  

At one point deputy vice-chancellor Merlin Crossley’s car was spotted and surrounded by workers and students chanting “Merlin Crossley get out, we know what you’re all about!” He was eventually rescued by police. 

A lunchtime march to the Chancellery building was joined by a group of construction workers who walked off the job with CFMEU flags held high. Maddie Powell, a National Union of Students campus representative, shared a message of support.

“They don’t care about the quality of education, because if they did, they wouldn’t force staff to slave away doing unpaid marking and lesson planning, they wouldn’t force you into casualised positions, and they wouldn’t attack you the way they do while we’re sinking further and further into HECS debt”, she said.

This strike was called in response to management’s refusal to meet the NTEU’s claims, including demands aimed at resisting management’s recent push to increase workloads.

Management is opposed to casual positions being converted to permanent jobs. More than half of all teaching at UNSW is done by casuals. They are paid for as few as one or two hours to prepare for lessons and are allotted 45 minutes per student per semester to mark all assignments. 

They can teach for years without accruing any sick leave or annual leave and perform hours of unpaid work each week.   

While UNSW staff are squeezed, the vice-chancellor, Ian Jacobs, is on a comfortable $1.22 million annual salary (a bit less than $25,000 a week). 

It’s clear that the administration views staff and students as mere gears and cogs in the university’s profit making machine. UNSW staff and students must build a campaign to turn the tide against the attacks.