Melbourne Uni staff strike back against administration attack

Melbourne University’s sandstone façade provides a genteel mask for a ruthless agenda to squeeze more and more out of those working there. The administration’s years-long productivity push currently appears as a number of proposed attacks on staff conditions. In the context of ongoing enterprise bargaining, we’re responding by striking on 9 May, at the same time as the Melbourne Change the Rules Rally, organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council. 

The National Tertiary Education Union has been negotiating with management over a new enterprise agreement for a year. The conditions at stake are important.

The university is seeking to remove academic freedom provisions from the agreement, leaving staff with no legally enforceable protections if they publish or express views that are unpalatable to the university’s corporate administrators.

Management also wants to introduce performance pay by making pay progression for certain professional staff depend on an assessment that they “exceeded” their performance requirements. 

But perhaps the most concerning proposal from management is to have two separate agreements: one that will cover academic staff and another for professional staff. Separate agreements will make joint actions such as the 9 May strike more difficult to organise, making it harder for staff to defend their conditions in the future. For a university that makes no secret of the fact that it views the main purpose of non-academic divisions as being to generate revenue, this is a disastrous proposal.

Many important union claims also remain outstanding, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment guarantees, casual job security improvements and a commitment to student-staff ratios. The university has also not made a pay offer and has, so far, not given staff an annual pay rise, something that has occurred previously when negotiations have dragged on for more than 12 months.

Melbourne University union members have seen how hardline university administrations across the country are using the rigged bargaining system to mount sweeping attacks on conditions. The response has been strong. Around 1,000 union members participated in a protected action ballot authorising strike action. Hopefully, the strike on 9 May will be the start of a serious industrial campaign to beat back the university’s attacks.