Hundreds of National Tertiary and Education Union members at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) were out on strike on 19 October. The 24-hour industrial action was a response to management’s refusal to concede on key demands in enterprise bargaining, specifically related to job security, superannuation and sick leave for casuals.
In the lead-up to the strike, the university had been spamming students and staff with emails encouraging them to cross the picket line to come on to campus. Picket lines were set up at key entrance points by 8am, and in defiance of management’s pleas, the size of the pickets grew as NTEU Sydney University members joined in, followed by UTS students and unionists from the CFMEU, MUA and ACTU.
9am the impact of the strike was noticeable, the usually buzzing campus sounds replaced only by the clicking and clanging of cranes building the new $1 billion campus upgrade, a monument to the priorities of the management. At 11.30am, 200 picketing staff and supporters converged for a rally. The crowd chanted union slogans and applauded various speakers, including NTEU activists, whose speeches hit a nerve with those on strike.
Red Flag spoke with NTEU activist and rally chair Sarah Attfield about why she was on strike. “I’m a scholarly teaching fellow. This is my second year, but prior to that I had been a casual academic since 2007. Now that I’m in full time employment, it’s my duty to stand up for those who are experiencing precarious employment conditions.”
More than 75 percent of UTS staff are on casual or fixed contracts. “The impact it has on you personally and professionally, having to scrabble around every semester, not having that security, not knowing how many hours you’re going to get or how much you’re going to be earning, is really stressful”, Sarah said. The strike was an important step in increasing the pressure on management. “Strikes are so important because withdrawing your labour sends a message to the boss”, she said.
The build-up to the strike has also brought record numbers of workers to join the union at UTS. “I was really impressed with the amount of people who helped out and joined the pickets; for some it was their first experience of a strike. It shows there are plenty of people out there who supported what we did”, Sarah said. The UTS staff campaign continues, and further strikes are possible.