Sentry, October 2021

Page 1

SENTRY The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus Anti-vaxxers & the far right come together over COVID-19 Unions & vaccine mandates An avoidable catastrophe Pandemic related job losses in Australian universities Published by National Tertiary Education Union

OCT 2021

vol. 2 no. 7


Anti-vaxxers & the far right

Vaccine mandates

Why anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and the far-right have come together over COVID-19.

Why unions support vaccination – but not employer mandates.


08 Cover: mklrnt/123rf

Sentry is a free online news magazine for NTEU members and Australian higher education staff. Sentry is published in the middle of each month, in between publication of the Union's main member magazine, Advocate. In 2021 Sentry will be published in February, April, May, June, August, September, October and December. Advocate will be published in March, July, November.



Virology of COVID-19

An avoidable catastrophe

New preliminary evidence suggests coronavirus jumped from animals to humans multiple times.

An Australia Institute report outlines the pandemic related job losses in our universities.

In case you missed it... 01 Ruth Jelley, Swinburne University 06 River Clarke, Curtin University 14 Research Promoter: How has COVID-19 impacted your job in higher education? 18



SENTRY ISSN 2652-5992 Published by National Tertiary Education Union PO Box 1323, South Melbourne VIC 3205 Australia ABN 38 579 396 344 All text & images ©NTEU 2021 unless stated Publisher

Matthew McGowan


Alison Barnes

Production Manager

Paul Clifton

Editorial Assistance Helena Spyrou Anastasia Kotaidis Sentry is available online free as a PDF and e-book at NTEU acknowledges the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of Naarm (Melbourne), the land on which the NTEU National Office is situated, and pays respect to their Elders, past & present.



In case you missed it.... Bluestocking Week, 8–12 November 2021

Visit the Bluestocking Week website DESKTOP

The theme for Bluestocking Week 2021 – Take Action for Equity – draws upon the feminist roots of Bluestocking Week, and while we celebrate the achievements of women in education, we are also acknowledging that feminism is intersectional. Thus, equity is not only about gender alone, but it is also about how gender intersects with race, culture, identity, socio-economic background (and social/economic privilege) and able-ness, to name a few. There will be three national online events on the theme of equity: • Women and Superannuation, Mon 8 Nov. Theresa Parkinson, Employer Partnership Manager, UniSuper. • It takes a pandemic… for the work of an epidemiologist to be recognised and understood, Wed 10 Nov. Professor Mary Louise McLaws, Epidemiologist, UNSW. • NTEU Annual Lecture and Keynote Speech – Respect at Work, Fri 12 Nov. Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Better Workplaces and a Better UTS!

Recovered wages total continues to rise

UTS is still cutting jobs and conditions to pay for COVID. This is short-sighted, unnecessary and harms staff and students. We need positive measures that protect jobs, improve job security for all staff, ensure fair workloads and much more. Whether you’re a UTS employee or student or just someone who cares about our universities, please sign our petition for Better Workplaces and a Better UTS!

The total amount of wages recovered for members by the NTEU Victorian Division continues to rise: $82,796 was recovered for one staff member at UniMelb!

Click here for the current total Donate Sign up here for updates about upcoming campaigns at your institution.

Sign up for updates at Victorian institutions File-Signature

Sign the Petition File-Signature vol. 2 no. 7




In case you missed it... WSU Branch fighting for job security Western Sydney University has refused secure jobs for thousands of casuals. Despite 'casual' staff working regular hours and performing the same duties semester-in, semester-out, WSU management has found tiny excuses to avoid granting job security. The best way to fight back is to encourage your colleagues to join NTEU and bargain for better conditions at universities.

Backpay for UNSW casuals UNSW workers are getting backpaid after the NTEU demanded an audit of payments to casuals. Thousands of dollars are already on their way back to the workers that earned them. There's more to come! If you or someone you know is a casual worker at UNSW, the best place to go is visit our new website at

We Won’t Wait: Family & Domestic Violence leave

Wage theft at Monash. Have you been underpaid?

Family and domestic violence is a national crisis. Australian Unions is renewing its call for a minimum of ten days of paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave to be included in national workplace laws to help women escape violent situations. The Federal Government must act to give every worker access to paid family and domestic violence leave.

If you've taught any classes at Monash University since 2015, you may have been underpaid, and you may be eligible for backpay. NTEU is gathering a list of staff who may have been affected. Get in touch with the Union to provide your details, so we can check them with the University.

Visit Monash Wage Theft website DESKTOP

Sign the Petition File-Signature




New AUR website & latest issue With vol. 63, no. 2, the Australian Universities’ Review (AUR) has moved to a new website. AUR has been published since 1958 and is Australia’s only journal dedicated exclusively to higher education issues. It is free to NTEU members on an opt-in basis – you need to let us know via your publication preferences at or send an email to

Visit the new AUR website DESKTOP

Why anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and the far-right have come together over COVID-19



Scenes of protesters clad in hi-vis jackets and shouting anti-vaccination slogans dominated the news in September. As the ABC reported, 'Some of those gathered held a banner reading ‘freedom’, while others sang the national anthem and chanted "f*** the jab".' Some attacked union offices, drawing criticism from officials such as ACTU chief Sally McManus, who described the protests as being orchestrated “by violent right-wing extremists and anti-vaccination activists.” These images may shock some but for researchers like me – who research far-right nationalist and conspiracy movements, and explore the online spaces where these people organise – these scenes came as no real surprise.

Far right nationalists, anti-vaxxers, libertarians and conspiracy theorists have come together over COVID, and capitalised on the anger and uncertainty simmering in some sections of the community. They appear to have found fertile ground particularly among men who feel alienated, fearful about their employment and who spend a lot of time at home scrolling social media and encrypted messaging apps.

THE LATEST IN A CONTINUUM It’s important to see what’s occurring with these protests as part of a continuum rather than a series of unrelated incidents. The continued overpage...

Josh Roose Deakin University

vol. 2 no. 7



MEMBER EXPERT September protests are related to anti-lockdown protests held in 2020, and earlier this year. It was at first limited to the conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxxer crowd. Some were just upset by lockdowns but most of the planning conversation online was being led by anti-vaxxers and QAnon activists. These movements thrive on anxiety, anger, a sense of alienation, a distrust in government and institutions. It’s really no coincidence this is occurring most vigorously in Melbourne given what this city has been through with lockdowns. It has really built momentum over the last year and, more recently, been infiltrated by far right groups.

THE FAR RIGHT ARE CAPABLE RECRUITERS If you go back two years ago, anti-vaxxers were a tiny minority. They have grown significantly in size and influence online. I have observed in my research the far right consciously appropriating the language of anti-vaxxers, of the conspiracy movements, seeking to exploit their anger and distrust. I spend a lot of time on the encrypted messaging groups used by these groups and in the online spaces where they organise. I have seen the same names popping up, and growing use of hard right or far right national socialist iconography.




It is almost like grooming. The far right are a lot more capable of recruitment than we give them credit for. They have found an audience who are angry, frustrated and looking for someone to blame. This is particularly the case among young men who are increasingly attracted to right wing nationalism and make up the majority of protesters. Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton has said the majority of protesters at the Saturday protest were men aged 25-40, who came with violent intent. Many of these groups share similar ideas: that there is a cabal of politicians and elites who are oppressing you. That freedom is at risk, that one must stand up for liberty, that there is a wealthy and unelected ruling class controlling you. COVID – with all the fear, uncertainty, lockdowns, policing and employment impacts it brings – has helped bring these groups together. Victoria Police earlier this year warned a parliamentary inquiry into extremism that 'online commentary on COVID-19 has provided a recruiting tool for right-wing extremist groups, linking those interested in alternative wellness, anti-vaccination and anti-authority conspiracy theories with white supremacist ideologies.' The far right has really sought to mobilise frustrated people and push them more toward right-wing narratives, particularly white nationalist narratives.


So you see the far right working very hard to undermine trade unions and the way they represent the organised working class. There is an attempt to undermine trust in trade unions and paint them as traitors and sell-outs who are in bed with the government. Among the protesters there was a really self conscious effort to represent themselves as themselves as tradies and workers. Some observed protest organisers encouraging people to wear hi-vis clothing to these rallies. It’s important to note the construction industry and trade union movement in general are incredibly diverse, and there will be different and competing views around vaccines, masks and lockdowns. Some of these protesters actually are tradies, some may not be. Some are union members, others are not. But the broader point is there is a group of people who are incredibly angry about the situation they find themselves in, and resentment is proving fertile terrain for organised groups.

WHERE TO FROM HERE? This is not an easy knot to unpick, but there are three main approaches

I think would really help. The first is we really need to get people back to work. That is critical. People’s self esteem and livelihood is tied up in work and the ability to put food on the table, in staying busy and socially connected (which is often via work).


There is a strong historical animosity toward trade unions (as the vanguard of the political left) by the far right. It would be disingenuous to view the far right as unintelligent thugs. They are learned in the history of national socialism and fascism and the preconditions for its rise.

By ensuring safe, secure employment for people, you really take away one of the main drivers of anger, resentment (and too much time to scroll around social media) that is helping push people toward extremism. The second is politicians need to think hard and fast about what they can do to help rebuild trust in them, in government and in our institutions. Politicians can’t hide behind press conferences and press releases to get their message out. They need to get out and build trust, face-to-face with the community. Of course, that has been constrained by lockdown but this work is urgent and important. Politicians need to lead and create relationships with the community again. The third thing is we as a society need to think carefully about social media, and perhaps about regulation. We need a long-term approach to media literacy training, to teach media literacy in schools and to educate people about social media echo chambers.

By ensuring safe, secure employment for people, you really take away one of the main drivers of anger, resentment (and too much time to scroll around social media) that is helping push people toward extremism.

Josh Roose is a senior research fellow at Deakin University. This article first published 21 September 2021 in The Conversation

vol. 2 no. 7




It feels good to be fighting the good fight! I work in the Learning Transformations Unit (LTU) at Swinburne University, the central department that supports and guides the implementation of digital tools in learning and teaching. As Learning Experience Manager, I am leading a team of learning designers to implement the newly minted blended learning strategy. Most other universities implemented blended learning before the pandemic hit, so we’re in a unique position to shape what post-pandemic learning and teaching looks like. Most importantly, we get to benefit from everybody having experienced the best – and worst – of online learning in the past 18 months. The worst experiences are underlined by a lack of support for both students and academics. When I first joined LTU in December 2020, I quickly realised that my colleagues hadn’t had a break all year. They faced relentless change, and were dealing with yet another proposal for a dodgy redundancy in the department. One of the great difficulties we face now is that the short and medium-term future is quite unpredictable.

Ruth Jelley Swinburne University

For how long will we have students stuck overseas, dialling into synchronous classes from a variety of time zones around the world? How do we develop a plan to bring students together when not everybody can be physically here with us?

To tell your story to the NTEU member community, please contact Helena Spyrou


What we want is to be able to build meaningful relationships with teaching staff to help them build



their skills in student-centred and technology-enhanced learning and teaching. Academic workloads and casualisation are a big barrier to that – workload pressure restricts the time we can work together to implement meaningful improvements, and casualisation means that some staff don’t even get paid to participate in the training we offer. My department isn’t large, so we can’t offer 1:1 support in the way that I know would have the biggest impact. I was reluctant to join the Union at first when I was a casual, but a friend who was working as a casual academic at Deakin convinced me that we had to work together to achieve change, and that joining the NTEU was the best way to do that. After running out of contract work at La Trobe University I got a new contract at the University of Melbourne, where they were still negotiating the Enterprise Agreement. After transferring my membership to the UniMelb Branch, I started getting involved in industrial action to protect the rights of professional staff. At the time, UniMelb management wanted to split the Agreement, which I saw as a veiled attempt to attack professional staff later down the track. My involvement started very innocently – putting up posters, sharing information with colleagues, handing out leaflets to staff and students at lunchtime. Then I attended my first strike and I was HOOKED!


MEMBER STORY We joined the Change the Rules rally and it was amazing! During that time, I was encouraged to nominate for Branch Committee. I also found out which of my colleagues were members, and over about 18 months I grew that membership from seven people to almost 20, and helped organise them as we faced a restructure. After a few years at Melbourne, I found my career was stagnating (as I had seen happen to other women in my department), so I went looking for greener pastures. I landed at Swinburne, where there is greater support for women in leadership, and transferred my membership again.

My involvement started very innocently – putting up posters, sharing information with colleagues, handing out leaflets to staff and students at lunchtime. Then I attended my first strike and I was HOOKED!

I reached out to the Branch and discovered there was an opening for new committee members. I really wanted to share the successes of what we’d achieved at the Melbourne Uni Branch, especially with the delegates network, and with the bargaining campaign. I’m thrilled to be part of the Branch Committee at Swinburne, and honoured to be a National Councillor, and especially the Vice President for General Staff at both Victorian Division and National levels.

NTEU members at the Change The Rules rally, Melbourne, Oct 2018.

I’ve had amazing support from comrades and friends across three Branches and it feels good to be fighting the good fight!

vol. 2 no. 7




Why unions support vaccination – but not employer mandates The American union movement has split over President Joe Biden’s proposal for companies with more than 100 employees to vaccinate their workforces against COVID-19. With increasing numbers of employers mandating COVID-19 vaccination, will something similar play out in Australia? Despite a push for mandatory workforce vaccination by some union members, the Australian union movement has been remarkably cohesive in opposing employer mandates. Four interlocking principles underpin this position. They are: • High vaccination rates should be attained through encouragement and facilitation, not employer mandates. • Where strictly necessary, mandates should be implemented through public health orders.

Professor Joo-Cheong Tham University of Melbourne


ENCOURAGE AND FACILITATE, DON’T COERCE In a joint statement with the Business Council of Australia (BCA) opposing employer mandates, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said: ...for the overwhelming majority of Australians your work or workplace should not fundamentally alter the voluntary nature of vaccination.

• Effective access to vaccines should be secured.

This emphasis on choice aligns with international labour standards on workplace immunisation as well as the Federal Government’s policy of COVID-19 vaccination being free and voluntary.

• The voices of workers should be respected.

It also recognises the invasive nature of vaccinations and the fact

Image: Diana Polekhina/Unsplash



MEMBER EXPERT that employer mandates involve compulsion. In some cases, this would mean risking workers’ jobs and livelihoods. However, it does not mean being agnostic about vaccination. On the contrary, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus has acknowledged high vaccination rates are necessary for workplace and community safety and for avoiding lockdowns. The ACTU recently launched a vaccination ad campaign to encourage workers to be vaccinated. It has also advocated for effective access to vaccination (including paid vaccine leave). This approach aligns with the World Health Organisation, which does not support vaccine mandates. Instead, the WHO argues for a focus on information campaigns and making vaccines accessible. Encouragement and facilitation do not guarantee workforces are 100% vaccinated (in the short term). But they may have more enduring public health benefits than forcing vaccination. Discussing and encouraging vaccination can be effective in overcoming vaccine hesitancy. For instance, meetings of the health sector union have resulted in many initially reticent members deciding to be vaccinated.

The ACTU’s focus on 'uniting' people to get behind vaccination, highlighting how vaccination is 'an act of solidarity', touches on something deeply important. Both Pope Francis and the WHO Director-General have emphasised that solidarity – a mindset that thinks in terms of community – is vital in the pandemic.


Watch and share the ACTU's 'It's time to get Vaccinated' video

ensure that where mandatory vaccination requirements are necessary (in a small number of highrisk places), they are implemented through the use of nationally consistent Public Health Orders. As the statement recognises, mandating vaccinations involves 'serious decisions that should not be left to individual employers'. Any decision to limit fundamental rights is best done through accountable public institutions, rather than private entities motivated by commercial considerations.

Discussing and encouraging vaccination can be effective in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

Public health orders also give the community confidence that such decisions have been informed by expert advice, and various stakeholders have had a chance to be heard (as employer groups and unions have had with the federal vaccine rollout). continued overpage...

vol. 2 no. 7




EFFECTIVE ACCESS TO VACCINES With the difficulties plaguing the vaccine roll-out, a key focus of unions has been on vaccine supply, particularly for front-line health workers. The ACTU and the nursing and health sector unions have also highlighted the inequity of employer mandates when there are acute vaccine supply issues, as with aged care and disability workers. Unions have called for all workers to be given paid vaccination leave (to be vaccinated and recover from its side effects). This would ensure workers are not deterred from being vaccinated because of a loss of pay. It’s particularly important for those in low-paid and precarious work (including casual employees who do not have paid annual and sick leave).


With the difficulties plaguing the vaccine roll-out, a key focus of unions has been on vaccine supply, particularly for front-line health workers.

The ACTU as well as transport, manufacturing and tertiary education unions have insisted workers be consulted on employer vaccination policies. At stake is the fundamental principle of worker voice. This principle is integral to the right of workers, as recognised in the International Labour Organisation’s 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia, to: pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity.




Worker voice is also central to workplace health and safety legislation, which requires consultation with workers and trade unions on employer vaccination policies. The underlying insight is that worker education and empowerment are key to workplace safety. Respecting worker voice is also essential to the collaborative approach to workplace vaccination urged by the federal government and the Fair Work Ombudsman. As the International Labour Organisation has pointed out, such collaboration helps build a climate of trust essential for the unprecedented workplace adjustments occurring in the pandemic. We see in the unions’ opposition to employer-mandated vaccinations a framework of principles that places public health as its centre, together with respect for bodily autonomy, workers’ rights, fairness and democracy. This approach may prove to be more far-sighted than employer mandates.

Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne This article first published on 20 Sept 2021 in The Conversation

New preliminary evidence suggests coronavirus jumped from animals to humans multiple times



The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic, has been hotly debated. This debate has caused substantial difficulties in the Australia-China relationship, with a call by Foreign Minister Marise Payne for another inquiry into its origin being considered by China as a hostile act. What’s not in doubt is the closest relatives of the virus are found in bats. How, where and when the virus spilled over into humans is the contentious issue. One widely supported hypothesis is the spillover occurred in the 'wet markets' of Wuhan, where many species of wildlife from across China are held in crowded conditions.

However, there’s no evidence the species of bats in which the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2 are found were sold through the Wuhan wet markets at any time in the two years before the pandemic. This hypothesis requires the existence of a 'bridge host', another species that becomes infected via spillover from the original bat hosts, and then passes the virus onto humans. Bridge hosts are well-known in many emerging human diseases. For example, Hendra virus, which my group studies, has flying foxes as its reservoir. Hendra spills over to horses with some frequency. Horses continued overpage...

Hamish McCallum Griffith University

Image: Pexels/Pixabay

vol. 2 no. 7



MEMBER EXPERT then amplify the virus as a bridge host and can infect humans. Fortunately, this is extremely rare, with only 7 known cases. Tragically, four of those people died. Hendra has never been known to spread directly from flying foxes to humans.

MORE EVIDENCE A LAB LEAK IS VERY UNLIKELY A second, much more contentious hypothesis is the origin of the pandemic was the result of a 'lab leak'. Wuhan has one of the most sophisticated virological laboratories in China, and the laboratory does work on bat viruses. The suggestion is the virus may have inadvertently been released into the general community via one of the workers. No direct evidence supports this hypothesis. Caption

The genetic evidence, therefore, suggests very strongly there have been at least two separate spillover events into human populations...

A new pre-print study, released online this month, provides strong evidence to support the 'natural spillover' hypothesis, with results that are hard to reconcile with the 'lab leak' hypothesis. The study is yet to be peer reviewed. But it’s based on a detailed examination of the genetic sequences of two early lineages obtained from people infected in late 2019 and early 2020. For convenience, these two lineages are called A and B. The two lineages differ by just two nucleotides (letters in the genetic code) at two different key sites in the genetic sequence.




If there was a single lab escape event, the separation into lineages A and B must have happened after the lab escape. We would therefore expect to see a substantial number of intermediate lineages, with the lineage A nucleotide at one site, and the lineage B nucleotide at the other site. However, if almost all of the genetic sequences obtained from humans are 'pure' lineage A or pure lineage B, this suggests there were at least two different spillover events, either directly from bats or via bridge hosts. And the evolution of the two lineages occurred before humans were infected. The researchers downloaded all complete genetic sequences for SARS-CoV-2 that had been lodged in a widely used genomic database. Of these sequences, 369 were lineage A, 1,297 were lineage B and just 38 were intermediates. Genetic sequencing isn’t perfect. Close examination of the 38 intermediates strongly suggested they were more likely to be sequencing errors of pure lineage A or lineage B than to be true intermediates. The genetic evidence, therefore, suggests very strongly there have been at least two separate spillover events into human populations, one being from lineage A and another being from lineage B.


DID A HUMAN BRING SARS-COV-2 TO THE WET MARKETS? The data don’t tell us there have been only two spillover events — there may have been more. Nor do they tell us whether these spillovers happened directly from bats, or whether some or all happened via an intermediate bridge host. A Nature news article suggests this evidence points to the spillover having happened via the wildlife trade, but I think this is taking it a step too far. While some of the wildlife species sold through the Wuhan wet market can indeed become infected with SARS-CoV-2 (for example raccoon dogs and mink), there’s no evidence any sold through the market were infected. Many of the earliest human viral sequences (all lineage B) were recovered from the Wuhan seafood market, but wet markets and abattoirs are well-known to be places where the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads very well from human to human. So, it may have been a human who brought the virus to the Wuhan seafood market, rather than a species of wildlife. One thing we do know is this pandemic originated through a human coming in contact with another species infected with the virus.


It’s unknown whether this was a bat or a bridge host, and whether this contact occurred in a wildlife market, or in a bat cave, or somewhere else entirely different. Nevertheless, as humans encroach more and more on the habitats of wild animals and as wild animals are brought more frequently into close contact with humans, we can expect further spillovers and pandemics to occur.

One thing we do know is this pandemic originated through a human coming in contact with another species infected with the virus.

Hamish McCallum is Director, Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, Griffith University, QLD This article published on 24 Sept 2021 in The Conversation

vol. 2 no. 7




NTEU is our best advocate to ensure our university is a positive environment As a current student and casual staff member at Curtin University, I see both sides of any changes in the University. I work in People and Culture (Human Resources) at Curtin and communicate regularly with staff across the whole Uni. Curtin University has been trying to move to a blended learning model since last year, shifting a portion of class delivery online. As a student, I’ve already seen this lead to more recycling of old lectures, fewer opportunities to work with tutors, and a less vibrant Curtin campus. The Student Guild and NTEU have been pushing back for over a year, demanding better conditions for staff and a more comprehensive transition plan, and they’ve been a bright light when I felt like the valuefor-money of my degree was crumbling before me. COVID-19 has sparked dramatic changes in staffing at Curtin, beyond the direct impact of lockdowns. There are fewer tutors for the same amount of work, less job security for casual academic staff that were already struggling, and complex reshuffles to cut costs have seen a lot of staff leave – even in the professional workforce.

River Clarke Curtin University

Even the new legislation that is supposed to provide staff conversions from casual to part-time where their work is consistent has brought little relief, as Curtin leans on the flexibility of the academic calendar as an excuse to offer only a handful of conversions amongst thousands of casual staff.

To tell your story to the NTEU member community, please contact Helena Spyrou




MEMBER STORY There is merit to moving away from traditional lectures and embracing the flexibility of online teaching, but it needs to be done with consultation with staff and by providing the extra resources and time to let staff improve courses accordingly. The abrupt transition in 2020 required shoehorning what we had into an online model, and while it was a good short-term patch it is no long-term solution. Staff want to deliver the best versions of their courses; they need to be given the ability to develop that, and to be paid for their time accordingly. Curtin Uni could have handled the situation better, but they are definitely making what they can of a bad situation – the Federal Government reducing funding to the tertiary sector at such a crucially pivotal time cannot be forgiven. While not an unexpected move from the conservative Coalition Government, it left the university sector unsupported during an unprecedented crisis.

Joining my union has brought a number of great relationships with the NTEU team on campus, not to mention the extra assurance that I have someone sympathetic to my cause if I need them. Even before I started as a staff member, the NTEU on campus were a welcome reminder that someone was standing up to protect the well-being of our staff and the quality of our education. Curtin University is going through a period of significant change – but when staff are apprehensive instead of excited, something has gone wrong. The NTEU is our best advocate to make sure this Uni remains a positive environment, for staff as well as students.

Even before I started as a staff member, the NTEU on campus were a welcome reminder that someone was standing up to protect the well-being of our staff and the quality of our education.

River Clarke (they/them) is a Junior Systems Administrator in People and Culture at Curtin University, and member of the NTEU. Outside of work, River is a Greens Senate Candidate for WA at the upcoming election.

NTEU Curtin Branch members celebrating the National Week of Action, Sept 2021.

I am a fresh face in the tertiary education taskforce, and the NTEU is my first union. But I have a background in political and social justice activism; if I’m sure of anything, it’s that the value a union brings to a workforce is invaluable. I joined the NTEU not long after I started work, and there was never any doubt in my mind it was the right thing to do.

vol. 2 no. 7




An avoidable catastrophe Pandemic related job losses in Australian universities The lack of pandemic support for public universities has been a slap in the face for higher education workers, particularly women. In the year of the ‘women’s budget,’ it’s a bad look for the government to stand by and watch the foreseeable loss of tens of thousands of jobs in this vital sector. The deep job cuts in tertiary education is a blow to the economic security of women in Australia, as higher education is one of the few feminised industries that offer high-quality, well-paying jobs to women.

Eliza Littleton Australia Institute


The Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work recently released a report, An Avoidable Catastrophe: Pandemic Job Losses in Higher Education and their Consequences, detailing pandemic related job losses in Australia’s tertiary education sector. When universities saw a third of their revenue disappear with the closure of our international border, little government help was offered. Now the sector is in crisis – with one in five jobs lost in the 12 months to May 2021, representing 40,000 teachers, admin and other support staff whose work has disappeared. In a stratified industry like tertiary education, the job losses were, of course, not evenly shared among all workers. Casuals bore the brunt of



initial redundancies, losing several thousand jobs in first months of lockdown. Once universities realised borders would not open in the 2021 academic year, they began cutting permanent jobs – and deeply. Permanent staff made up 90% of the 40,000 jobs lost in the last year. As in many other industries, women employed in tertiary education are over-represented in casual and part-time work. They also suffered a larger share of the job casualties – 61% of the job losses over the past year were borne by women. The deep job cuts in tertiary education is a blow to the economic security of women in Australia, as higher education is one of the few feminised industries that offer high-quality, well-paying jobs to women. Female employment in this sector helps to offset gender inequality in the broader economy. So we will likely see worsening gender pay and superannuation gaps, a drop in full-time work for women, and less female representation in prestigious positions. The severing of ties between these women and their former universities hinders long-term career opportuni-

ties, including taking talented women right off the tenure track. This is a problem the JobKeeper wage subsidy was designed to avoid. But the Commonwealth Government, inexplicably, effectively excluded public universities from the program, abandoning theses powerhouses of research and education when they should have offered a helping hand. As a result, tens of thousands of university staff were thrown out of their jobs. Granted we couldn’t predict the pandemic, and the subsequent policy decisions made by political leaders were important to save lives – in particular, the decision to close the national border. However, leaving universities and their workers high and dry was a choice. The not-so-invisible hand of government generously extended a lifeline to many other COVID-exposed industries, including $1.2 billion to airlines, hotel, restaurants, travel agents and tourism operators. Total Commonwealth spending related to the pandemic was a staggering $311 billion. Amidst all that support, there is no excuse for the government to have neglected universities as they did. The outcome – higher education has lost more jobs than any other non-agricultural sector in Australia’s economy. For context the 40,000 jobs lost in tertiary education is roughly the same number of people employed in coal mining in Australia.


NEWS & CAMPAIGNS Against the backdrop of a widening gender pay gap, outsized female pandemic job losses and stimulus programs that disproportionately benefit men, the decision to shaft universities joins a long list of government blunders on issues concerning women’s economic security. This is not just a footnote in Australia’s COVID-19 history. These university job losses are likely to get worse without government support, with far-reaching implication for the future of research, innovation, and workforce skills. We estimate that a $3.75 billion investment in public higher education could restore the jobs lost and retain the irreplaceable human capital of this sector – so vital to the quality of both education and research performed by our universities. Not only this, but the Government has an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is and protect women’s job during this crisis.

24.8% FEMALES

16.1% MALES

Tertiary education job losses by gender, May 2020 to May 2021

Eliza Littleton is research economist at independent think-tank, the Australia Institute This article first published in Broad Agenda, 23 Sept 2021.

It may be a coincidence that this happens to be a relatively feminised sector, but the optics are bad.

vol. 2 no. 7




How has COVID-19 impacted your job in higher education?


This anonymous survey explores how the sudden workforce changes as a result of COVID-19 have impacted careers for staff working in the Australian higher education sector. This data can assist identify the long-term implications for higher education workers as well as higher education providers in terms of meeting future workforce needs post-COVID. If you work in higher education, or worked in higher education pre-COVID19, we want to hear about your experience. Please complete this ten minute survey. By following this link, you will receive full information regarding this research project and have the option to complete the survey.

This research project will report on a broad-scope, cross institutional, anonymous survey of higher education employees and/or ex-employees seeking qualitative and quantitative data to determine the common experiences and potential impacts that these sudden workforce changes have had on individual careers. This data will be analysed and discussed in terms of the potential long-term implications for the university sector in meeting future workforce needs. Recommendations to ensure a sustainable higher education workforce post-COVID-19 will be provided.

Completion of the survey is considered consent to participate in this research. This research is ethics approved by Australian Catholic University and the Chief Investigator is Dr Alison Owens. Full information is provided in the Participant Letter of Information embedded in the survey. This project is being conducted by Dr Alison Owens, Dr Susan Loomes, Dr Peter Mahoney and Emeritus Professor Margot Kearns. Questions about the project may be addressed to Alison Owens by email. Take part in the survey here.

Please update your NTEU membership details if:


Your work address details change.


Your Department or School changes its name or merges with another.

Office, building, campus etc.

You change your name.

Update online at

You are leaving university employment.

Send an email to


You move house. Required if your home is your nominated contact address. /members

Please email the National Office if:



You move to another institution.

Your employment details change.

Transfer of membership between institutions is not automatic.

Please notify us to ensure you are paying the correct fees.

Your credit card or direct debit account details change.


Deductions will not stop automatically.


If your payroll deductions stop without your authority, please urgently contact your institution’s Payroll Department




Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.