The war on uni employees hits Victoria University

Management at Victoria University (VU) in Melbourne’s western suburbs have taken the gloves off in their drawn-out effort to slash jobs, cut costs and smash the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

With the current enterprise agreement set to expire in December, the university has announced a round of forced redundancies. Among those sacked are three of the four elected NTEU branch officers: branch president Paul Adams, the branch vice president (professional staff) and the branch secretary. Other prominent branch committee members have also been targeted. This comes hot on the heels of the redundancy of the branch vice president (academic) some months ago.

The university has deliberately removed the union leadership, its key activists and the individuals who would have been the union’s bargaining team in upcoming negotiations. Victoria University is now ground zero for the assault on university employees across the country, following September’s scandalous Fair Work decision that allowed Murdoch University to tear up its agreement with staff.

Victoria University has been crying poor for several years, arguing that the union’s collective agreement imposes too high a cost for a university catering to working class and migrant students. In June, after months of union-led protests, vice chancellor Peter Dawkins justified sweeping cuts, arguing, “VU has been at the forefront of the national agenda to increase participation among students from poorer backgrounds, many of whom need additional support to succeed. This requires substantial investments”.

Dawkins presumably thinks “additional support” for students means slashing staff and cutting courses. As for “substantial investment”, Dawkins’ salary is currently $795,000.

In a revealing move, the university recently hired notorious union-busters from Patrick Stevedores, one of whom was overheard bragging that they are “here to smash the union”. This came as no surprise to VU staff. The latest sackings are part of an unrelenting war on the union branch.

The corporate profiteers at the top of the institution want to drive down costs and increase exploitation. But to do so, they know they need to smash the union before the next round of negotiations – and Murdoch University has given them a shot of confidence. It’s as simple as that. Our side needs to respond with as much force as we can muster.