SENTRY August 2022

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Cover photo: Hamish McIntosh, c. Stephen A’Court. When he’s not lobbying politicians, Hamish is a PhD student and former casual academic and dance teacher. Read his story inside.

Casual cavalcade to Canberra Where to for higher ed after the OrganisingCampaigningelection?towinbetterworkplacesandbetterunisforbetterpayandconditions SENTRY Published by National Tertiary Education Union | Aug 2022 | Vol. 4 - No. 2 |

NTEU SENTRY | Aug 2022 | Vol. 4 - No. 2 Contents SENTRY is a free online news magazine for NTEU members and Australian higher education staff. SENTRY ISSN 2652-5992 Published by National Tertiary Education Union 120 Clarendon St, South Melbourne VIC 3205 Australia ABN 38 579 396 344 All text & images ©NTEU 2022 unless stated Publisher: Matthew McGowan Editor: Alison Barnes Production Manager: Michael Evans Editorial Assistance: Helena Spyrou Design and layout: The Shape Agency This edition of Sentry is available online free as a PDF. 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. All election content is authorised by Matthew McGowan, NTEU, 120 Clarendon St South Melbourne VIC 3205 1 Editorial: Insecure work in Aust higher ed must end now University researchers and staff are critically important. Alison Barnes explains why it’s time they are given job and income security. 3 Casual cavalcade to Canberra We took 13 insecurely employed workers to Canberra to tell their stories to MPs. Gabe Gooding relates what happened, plus some reflections from members about their experience. 14 Where to for higher ed after the election? Terri MacDonald and Kieran McCarron look at the state of play in the post-election landscape. 16 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum meets This year’s theme was Respecting culture, reflecting on change, and reinforcing our rights. Adam Frogley reports. 19 Campaigning to win better workplaces and better unis Across NSW our Branches have made positive steps towards building a collective campaign capable of shifting uni management. Damien Cahill reports. 21 Organising for better pay and conditions It’s great that we now have a federal Labor Govt, but we are still stuck with the industrial relations legislation enacted by the last one. Labor law expert Anthony Forsyth presents some ideas on what needs to change. 24 Grassroots organising Dani Cotton relates members’ experiences around organising for gender affirmation leave and draws some wider conclusions around building union power. 26 Ted (1957Murphy–2022) A short obituary for our former National Assistant Secretary. 3

NTEU SENTRY | Aug | Vol. 4 - No. 2 1 Editorial

Insecure work in Australian higher education must end now

THE ERA of exploitation of their vast knowledge and commitment must end now. The Age and the Herald’s excellent investigation has exposed the enormous brain drain our industry is experiencing with generations of researchers being forced to leave. But as it correctly outlined, the proliferation of insecure work in Australian higher education has created dire conditions for tens of thousands of university workers, not just researchers. My union is taking a busload of casual staff to Canberra today to meet Education Minister Jason Clare, to demand action on insecure work and to speak of their experiences being precariously employed. One casually employed academic has told me of the anguish they felt, having to leave their position with no carer’s leave to look after a Alison Barnes National President

Australian university researchers and staff are critically important. It’s time they are given job and income security. terminally ill parent before they died. Only to return with a mountain of debt and no guarantee of a job. Others have told me of the struggle to make ends meet, denied a full-time position despite working full-time hours for years. For those who haven’t experienced it, the ruthless nature of working in universities may come as a shock. I’ve seen sick Squid Game-style recruiting rounds where casual staff have to fight it out for a job. One member has spoken of being left in a room with another worker and told to toss a coin to see who wins the one job left. These are not one-off extreme cases. It is the brutal truth of working in an industry that denies workers full-time jobs and conditions because it benefits their business model. There are a staggering 166,000 university

This first appeared as an Opinion piece in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 27 July 2022.

NTEU SENTRY | Aug 2022 | Vol. 4 - No. 22

The Albanese government has a golden opportunity at the upcoming skills summit to bolster our institutions and the staff who are the backbone of them by introducing reforms that deliver secure jobs.

New Education Minister Jason Clare has promised a reset in the relationship between federal government and universities. Now it’s time to deliver.


The best case is this was an ill-thought through piece of law but the worst case was it was intentionally designed to let universities off the hook. However, whether university staff precariously employed, repeatedly victims of wage theft and forced to reapply for their jobs semester after semester inspires sympathy in you is not actually my point. They may not fit the typical definition but university staff are essential workers.

Australia needs students to be able to study and get degrees. We need a future-proof economy with workers trained for the jobs of tomorrow. And if we want our researchers to continue making life-changing and lifesaving discoveries, like vaccines, something has got to give.

Editorial staff currently employed insecurely. That is in stark contrast to the vice-chancellors and executives often earning more than a million dollars a year in full-time positions. I’ve been vocal on slashing their exorbitant salaries but what university staff need is for them to be forced into employing staff securely. So far my union, and its casual members, have had to fight tooth and nail to expose universities’ over-reliance on insecure work. We have successfully embarrassed many over the theft of casual workers’ wages in the media, in parliament and through the courts. Most recently, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions in Melbourne University was left red-faced enough to commit to dramatically reducing its reliance on casual staff – hopefully they follow through. But this strategy takes a toll on casual workers, who already work incredibly hard and should not have to constantly struggle to be treated fairly and be paid what they’re owed. Vice-Chancellors need to be forced into action by this federal government. The last attempt at casual conversion from the Commonwealth, under former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was atrociously bad for higher education staff. When universities were offered a good-faith opportunity to convert casual staff to full-time jobs, only two per cent of workers made the cut. Some had worked in the same pattern, teaching the same courses for decades, yet were denied a full-time job on a technicality. We tested this legislation in court and the court reluctantly agreed our test case couldn’t be granted a full-time job – after a decade of service – because it would’ve cost the university too much money.

Casual Cavalcade to Canberra interest explaining their story and why they wanted to go to Canberra. It was an almost impossible task to choose from the many who applied, but in the end, we decided on taking those whose stories had the greatest chance of shifting opinions of the decision makers on our key issues of casualisation and wage theft.

IN LATE July NTEU took 13 insecurely employed workers to the national capital to tell their stories to politicians in the first sitting week of the new Parliament. Our brilliant members got politicians and staffers to fully understand the consequences of the rampant casualisation of universities; for the employees themselves, for the quality of experience for students, for the country’s reputation as a quality provider of higher education, and for the future of academic capacity in teaching and research in Australia.

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Members across the country were asked to nominate if they had an interest in attending and to provide a brief expression of Gabe Gooding National SecretaryAssistant

NTEU’s Canberra lobbying delegation at Parliament House with the National Union of Students (NUS) and ACTU President Michele O’Neil

While it is possible for union leaders and staff to have meetings with MPs and Ministers to lobby them (and we do), giving politicians and their advisers an opportunity to interact with exploited workers, to see first had the passion that they have for their work, and to ask questions, is a far more powerful experience.

Delegations of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander membership will be making a similar trip later this year or early next, and it is likely that we will again take insecurely employed members to emphasise the point when the legislation is up. We can, and will bargain and campaign for secure work, better working conditions and decent pay-rises but if we can also shift the legislative agenda to ensure that it supports the decasualisation of Australian universities and holds them to account for wage theft rather than facilitates it, our gains in bargaining will be underpinned by a strong foundation. If we do, it will be in no small part thanks to the members who went to Canberra and told their stories. We thank them all. We are confident now that we are on the radar, and our wonderful casuals are ensuring we stay there by already continuing the lobbying work at home.

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On more than one occasion we saw politicians and staffers moved to tears. But the aim is not to tell sad stories, it is to get those who vote on the legislation that is doing us harm and allowing the extreme casualisation of universities to understand why a solution for casual conversion that works for Coles and Woolies cannot work for university workers.

Once the details were explained to them and the impact on workers illustrated, many MPs of different political persuasions were open to considering special legislative provisions to provide job security for education workers (noting that teachers also do not benefit from the current National Employment Standards). We also needed them to understand that wage theft is rampant and that the employers need to be held to account for the exploitation of casual workers. On that almost everyone agreed, and finally, we wanted them to hear the negative impact that Job-ready Graduate package has had on our members and our institutions and to support undoing the funding cuts. We are happy to report that not only were MPs willing to consider all of the requests we made, many have also indicated that they want to talk to us some more closer to when legislation is ready, in order to make sure that it meets what we need. Higher education has not been on the radar for many politicians in the past decade, in part because those who support the sector have not seen any opportunity to effectively do so under the previous government. We are confident now that we are on the radar, and our wonderful casuals are ensuring we stay there by already continuing the lobbying work at home. It is a major logistical exercise to get 13 members to Canberra along with elected officers and support staff and to organise meetings and opportunities for casuals to tell their stories, but it is clearly worth the effort.

Our fantastic members (L to R): Lara McKenzie (UWA), Hamish McIntosh (Melbourne), Mick Piotto (UniSA), Errol Phua (Swinburne), Toby Priest (Flinders), Ben Graham (Sydney), Victoria Bladen (UQ), Afsenah Porzoor (RMIT), Jennie Jeppeson (Melbourne), Andrew Broertjes (UWA), Karen Douglas (RMIT).

Missing: Cecile Dutreix (UniSA) and David Newheiser (ACU)

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Jason Clare (Minister for Education)

Louise Pratt (ALP, WA) Max Chandler-Mather (Greens, QLD) Stephen Bates (Greens, QLD) Tanya Plibersek (ALP, NSW and former Shadow Minister for TimEducation)Ayres(ALP Senator, NSW) Tony Sheldon (ALP, NSW)

Brendan O’Connor (ALP, Vic) Carina Garland (ALP, Vic) David Shoebridge (Greens Senator, NSW)

Libby Coker (ALP, Vic)

Louise Miller-Frost (ALP, SA)

Anthony Chisholm (ALP Senator, QLD) Barbara Pocock (Greens Senator, SA)

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Greens Senators 2: Penny Allman-Payne (QLD) Larissa Waters (QLD) Barbara Pocock (SA)

Post Election

Alicia Payne (ALP, ACT) Andrew Leigh (ALP, ACT)

Dr Andrew Broertjes I’M SITTING in a shared office on a Sunday morning, writing this reflection while trying to avoid the mountain of student emails that await me in my inbox, a mountain of emails that piled up as I headed to Canberra with other committed casual members of the NTEU to talk to our politicians about the crisis in higher education. Anyone reading this reflection will be aware of how broken our university sector is. The recent election of an ALP government has filled us with an optimism that is cautious at best. We have been let down too many times in the past to allow ourselves to be carried away by false hope. At the same time, we all recognise the need to continue fighting, and to bring our stories to those who can make a difference. Heading to Canberra, and meeting other members of branches across the country, some of whom I had only seen in large Zoom meetings, or followed on Twitter, Dr BroertjesAndrew

Lecturer in History, UWA was exhilarating. The shared experience of working in the tertiary sector as casuals and fixed term staff members created an instant bond between all of us, despite the very different backgrounds and stories we were bringing to parliament house. Meeting with politicians across the political spectrum gave us an opportunity to put a human face to the costs of casualisation, and convey the need for greater permanency and security for us in the sector. The chopping and changing of the meeting schedule with politicians and staffers was something we had been told to prepare for, and the corridors of power were certainly a frantic place to be operating as a new government was being sworn in and set up. Everyone we spoke to gave us a sympathetic hearing, but what happened over the last week is just a first step. We need to step up the fight, and get our stories out to the wider Australian public, to make the changes that we deserve.


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During my face-to-face meeting with Senator Tony Sheldon and his Chief of staff, Mr Stephen Fitzpatrick, I tried to emphasise the need for transparency with casual conversion. This is because universities might claim or show a reduction in the number of insecure employments over a period. However, they might fail to clearly indicate whether those casuals were converted to full time employees or simply their contracts were disregarded over the time. This trip unveiled and voiced casual insecure and short-term employees from all walks of life. Therefore, the policy for the casual conversion should also be planned in such way to ensure no insecure employee in the sector is left behind. David Newheiser IN THE ten years since I completed my PhD, I’ve seen the importance of secure jobs from both sides. For the last year and a half, I’ve had a constant headache along with other neurological symptoms. This began after a bicycle accident, but most people recover quickly from a minor traumatic brain injury like mine. According to my doctors, I have developed a chronic health condition because I was suffering from stress accumulated through ten years of insecure employment. I knew that moving into secure employment would make a huge difference in my life, but it has mattered more than I could have imagined. Concretely, my health has improved. I have found that I have more energy to contribute to my family and my community. In addition, now that I no longer need to constantly look over my shoulder –  wondering whether the career I have built is about to end – my scholarship has grown sharper, freer, and bolder. Like many of us in the academy, I do what I do because I believe it matters for the world. I worked in industry for a couple of years after my undergraduate degree, but I returned to the university because I decided that it’s the best way for me to contribute to society – above all, by thinking carefully about questions that matter. I have found that insecure work makes this much harder, but I have also seen that academics like me have a lot to offer if we are given basic support in the form of secure jobs.

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Dr. Afsaneh Porzoor I ATTENDED the lobbying trip to Canberra to voice my frustration against current systemic casual insecure employment which has become a norm for years. I was also determined to ensure that the impact of universities’ exclusion from the Job-keeper disaster payment on people’s livelihood during the pandemic can be heard. The trip gave me the opportunity to meet and hear from casual or short-term contract employees from almost every state. It was inspiring to listen to Delegates’ speeches and learn about their experiences. Many of them are great academics who despite being renowned in their fields, their work and contributions were not recognised by their employer.

Dr. Afsaneh Porzoor RMIT

David Newheiser Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Australian Catholic University

Dr Victoria Bladen

“IT WAS a privilege to be part of the Secure Jobs lobbying trip to Canberra and have the opportunity to advocate for casuals in the tertiary sector. Casuals from various universities across Australia met with various Ministers and MPs of the new 2022 Parliament to tell their stories and argue for the need for reform to address the casualisation crisis. Although all our stories were unique and focused on the problems from various angles, there were many patterns and common issues arising. We particularly emphasised problems such as: • marginalisation,   • wagetheft,   • difficulties of casuals trying to survive on very low incomes, often below the minimum wage,  • the lack of career paths; and   • the emotional toll and effect on mental health and well-being.

There were many highlights of this trip. It was a unique opportunity to gain insights into the workings of Parliament for the first time; and to think about how reform can be approached at the national level. I was really pleased at the warm reception we were given by the various MPs and Ministers we met with. There was empathy and a willingness to listen. But the most important element that came out of the trip was meeting with other casuals and hearing their moving stories about how casualisation has affected them. We worked really well as a team and it made us more resolved to advocate for change to a system that is unfair and undermines the integrity of higher education.

Dr Victoria Bladen UQ Casuals Rep

However, through attending the recent lobbying trip to Canberra with the NTEU and sharing my experience in VCA Dance with two Members and four Senators, I recognise that my story—our story—can and will catalyse,I believe that empowerment can be the norm for those working in tertiary education and research; the NTEU inviting me to meet with our parliamentarians is testament to our shared goal of creating better unis with casuals front and centre.

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Hamish McIntosh PhD Student Hamish McIntosh MY NAME is Hamish, and I’m a dancer, researcher, and NTEU member. Between 2019 and 2021 I worked as a casual academic staff member in dance at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. As a now former sessional employee, I was subject to wage theft through the misclassification of my work. Ironically, I started my academic journey in 2017 believing that a university career would provide financial security relative to the infamous precarity of dance. In short, I now know the feelings of disempowerment and distress that permeate our sector well.

IN THE week after our NTEU delegation was in Parliament, the ACTU took workers to Canberra to do the same thing – to tell politicians about the serious problems in their workplaces. The delegation included NTEU Monash Branch President Ben Eltham: “On August 2nd and 3rd I had the privilege to represent Monash NTEU members as part of an official ACTU delegation to Parliament House to lobby government MPs and Senators for reform to Australia’s broken industrial relations system.  Across two days we spoke to dozens of Labor members to remind them that the union movement helped elect them, and that now they needed to deliver for working people.

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(From left) Ben Eltham (NTEU); Angela McManus (Flight Attendants Assoc); Mitchell Shippey (AMWU); Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah, new MHR for Higgins (Vic); Ben Refalo (RTBU)

This wasn’t about union bosses. It was about real workers talking to the government about why the entire system is stacked against them. I was joined by a train driver from Queensland, a shipbuilder from Port Adelaide, a midwife, and a Qantas flight Whatattendant.really struck me was how similar all our stories are.  We’ve all heard about what’s going on at Qantas, but every worker I spoke to had a story about bosses using the system to suppress wages and strip away conditions. Qantas has four different labour hire companies employing casual flight crew, all wearing the Qantas uniform. The train driver

ACTU takes workers to ParliamentDr Ben Eltham NTEU BranchMonashPresident

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Post told me about his employer simply refusing to honour their enterprise agreement, and then ignoring a Fair Work Commission ruling -- they had to go to federal court to get their meal allowance reinstated. Every worker had a story about employers putting health and safety at risk. And everyone wanted to know about wage theft in universities -- especially government MPs and Senators, who are shocked at the behaviour of vice-chancellors. I tried my best to speak up on behalf of Monash NTEU members -- explaining how Monash University has admitted to $8.6 million in wage theft, and talking about how Monash HR managers verbally abuse staff in closed meetings.


Labor’s industrial relations agenda is quite positive, but limited. As we know in universities, there is much work to be done to reform governance of public institutions. The government needs to follow through and pass legislation to reform the Fair Work Act. This trip will feed into ongoing campaigning to keep the pressure up.”

“What we saw and heard across the two days is that these stories have similar threads: insecure work, diminished bargaining power, stagnating wages. This felt like a very positive step in changing that, and also a chance to listen to and understand each other.”

Sally McManus ACTU Secretary

But the best thing about the trip was meeting fellow unionists like Grace from the UWU or Angela from the Flight Attendants Association, and hearing that their struggles in aged care or aviation are really not that different from the problems we face in higher education.

“The lobbying event in Canberra was a fantastic reminder of what collective action can do. There were people from all walks of life there; meatworkers to cabin crew and pilots, to nurses and preschool teachers. It was an incredible, powerful feeling. Union officials were outnumbered by workers from the frontline of their industries by a lot, and that was perfect. That’s exactly how it should be. Their voices are the important ones in this debate.

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MANY PEOPLE interested in higher education would have breathed a sigh of relief after 21 May. Nearly a decade of the Coalition’s stewardship has resulted in:

• The end of the demand driven system, capping the number of places.

Terri MacDonald and Kieran McCarron Public Policy and Strategic Research

• Average student debt has increased from $15,000 in 2012 to $23,000 in 2021

• No progress on insecure jobs, an increase in specialization of work, and a decrease in proportion of teaching-research jobs.

• An absence of higher education from the narrative around economic growth and skills. To top it off, the Jobs Ready Graduates changes introduced in 2021 took the situation from bad to worse. It was intended to direct students to government’s chosen areas like STEM subjects, but created counter-objective incentives for universities and almost private level fees for many students. The government cut funding by around 15% per place, while student fees increased by 7% per place. Badly conceived, unfair and deeply problematic, it was ultimately a cost saving measure for the Coalition. It removed the link between teaching & research via changes to the Commonwealth Grants Scheme (CGS), forced students out of courses if they fail more than 50% of subjects, and supercharged student debt.

Where to for higher education after the federal election?

• At least 30,000 sector jobs have been lost.

• Funding reduced by 2.6% in real terms since 2013 despite a23% increase in enrollments.

• Strong government intervention in and control of research agenda, including grant vetos and a new commercial research focus.

• Work with sector allies & the broader union movement.

• Take a delegation of members to Canberra to tell their stories to MPs and Senators (see elsewhere).

• Formulate and consolidate policy as we engage with the new Government

• Insecure work – only 1 in 3 university jobs is continuing.

• Now IR Minister Tony Bourke committed Labor to criminalising wage theft, introducing minimum standards for gig workers, delivering on their “same job, same pay” policy and restoring balance to the Fair Work Commission. While the Greens promised:

Public higher education is at a crossroads & we need an education revolution…

• Erase student debt.

• Proposal of an ‘accord’ approach to depoliticise reform – focus on Accessibility, Affordability, Quality, Certainty, Sustainability, Prosperity.

• 465,000 free TAFE places, and 45,000 new TAFE places.

• Participate in sector events, inquiries and the “Accord”.

• Undertake new research to support campaigning & lobbying.

• Increase funding per place by 10%.

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Industrial & policy solutions are needed to urgently address insecure work, for all areas of higher education. Funding reform is necessary, but we don’t need more money for buildings or Vice-Chancellor salaries.

What did the ALP and Greens take to the election? The ALP’s main policies are:

What needs to be addressed?

• The funding and cost issues in the Jobs Ready Graduates package need to be addressed.

• Research is being steered towards commercialisation in select areas, basic research is being undermined, humanities research is being undermined.

We need to ensure that the priorities are meaningful, have an impact, don’t undermine workers industrially, and that they build union strength and a member voice – we want better unis, better lives. To this end we will:

• Increase RBG funding by $5.5B.

Higher education needs to be accessible, affordable, and equitable. Research has been undermined and underappreciated – basic, fundamental research needs support, humanities research needs to be supported, ARC & NHMRC funding needs to be addressed.

• Increased specialization, wage theft, increased workloads, undermining of pay & conditions, poorer career paths, sexual harassment and exploitation – all linked to insecure employment.

• Other issues include the transparent reporting of data; Vice-Chancellor remuneration; the Respect@Work recommendations; and a range of governance issues.

• Integrate this into our organising and industrial strategies (eg insecure work, sexual harassment) in a whole of union approach.

The problems and issues are many, but these are the most pressing ones:

• Some targeted infrastructure spending.

• Increase job security for University and TAFE workers (via linked funding).

• Government interference in research funding bodies, the ARC and NHMRC.

• Organise for Branches & members to visit local MPs.

• Increase governance power of staff and students.

• “Up to 20,000” additional places for targeted areas of importance.

• Free university education.

• Reverse the Jobs Ready Graduates package.

NTEU SENTRY | Aug 2022 | Vol. 4 - No. 2 Broader Union 16 Respecting culture, reflecting on change, and reinforcing our rights NTEU National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum 2022 Forum members with Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe Members at the National ForumGreens Senator Lidia Thorpe addresses Forum

NATIONAL ABORIGINAL and Torres Strait Islander Forum 2022 was held from Thursday 28 to Saturday 30 July, in Naarm on the country of the Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation. Boon Wurrung Elder, Aunty Janet Galpin gave a warm welcome to all attending National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum, with detailed background on the history and culture of the Boon Wurrung.

For the first-time since 2019, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum was held in-person, with fortythree registered delegates, observers, elected officials, and staff participating across the three-days. An online attendance option to attend National Forum for delegates who were unable to travel to Naarm was also offered.

• Indigenous Student Success Program Investigation

• A motion on nomenclature, resulting in the development and circulation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander member online survey to determine the appropriate terminology for NTEU.

Outcomes from National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum 2022 include:

Dates for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum 2023 will be publicised when confirmed.

A range of guest speakers addressed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum, including Senator Adam Frogley Director, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Unit

The Yarn/feedback session was conducted on the first day of the National Forum, with delegates speaking to a range of important matters on campus, and a session on bargaining training and negotiation tactics was conducted to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates and members during the current round of bargaining.

The theme of this year’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum was Respecting culture, reflecting on change, and reinforcing our rights, and throughout the course of the National Forum, delegates discussed a range of topics related to this theme, including the Uluru Statement and the proposal for a voice to parliament, nomenclature, NTEU code of conduct and motions for NTEU National Council 2022.

Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), international guests Vicki Young (TEUNZ/University of Waikato) and Megan Morris (TEUNZ), along with presentations from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium (NATSIHEC) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA).

• Uluru Statement • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and ownership of cultural properties and knowledges

• Motions from the floor of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum for consideration by National Council 2022, including:

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Forum 2022 was successful in achieving a number of important outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, peoples and the NTEU. The NTEU Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee and Team sincerely thank all those who attended and participated in this year’s National Forum.

• NTEU 10 Point Plan for a Post-Treaty Union

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The last two-and-a-half years have been traumatic for the higher education sector.

JOB CUTS, chronic overwork, widespread job insecurity and ongoing workplace restructuring all underscore the urgent need for change. Enterprise bargaining presents an enormous opportunity for NTEU members to win better workplace conditions and a decent pay rise. To make this a reality, we will need to build a collective campaign capable of shifting uni management from its business-as-usual approach.

Campaigning to win better workplaces and better unis

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Across NTEU Branches in NSW we have made positive steps towards building such a campaign. To date, four Branches in NSW – Sydney, Western Sydney, UTS and Newcastle – have won ballots for the right to take protected industrial action. In each case, strong supermajorities (around 95%) supported industrial action. So far, three days of strike action have been taken by members at Sydney Uni, Western Sydney Uni members organised a half-day strike, and members at Newcastle Uni have begun a campaign of work bans. More action is planned. It is perhaps not surprising that NTEU members have got behind the campaign of industrial action so Damien Cahill NTEU NSW Division Secretary

Broader Union

• Pay rises of between 4.6%-6.4% in 2022, and a compounded pay rise of 14.2%-16.3% over the life of the agreement, with lower-paid professional staff receiving proportionately higher pay increases. Proportionately, this represents possibly the most significant program of decasualisation in the last 20 years. And it shows what is possible. The task now is to extend these wins to other universities through a strong and nationally coordinated campaign.

• The right to disconnect from work-related emails and communications outside of work hours

• 20 days per annum gender affirmation leave

Broader Union 20 strongly. Having lived through the last two years of trauma, university staff want better workplaces and better universities. The issues on which the NTEU is campaigning speak to these desires. We are campaigning to change university enterprise agreements and win: a significant reduction in insecure employment and its conversion into permanent jobs; enforceable regulations against overwork; curbs on rampant workplace restructuring and a fair pay rise. In great news for union members nationally, members at Western Sydney University (WSU) have shown that the changes we are seeking to win through our bargaining campaign are realistic. As a result of a strong union campaign the NTEU has won the following changes as part of a new enterprise agreement at WSU:

• Working from home rights for professional staff

Support Sydney Uni staff in their fight for job-security, fair pay and an end to predatory managerialism and exploitative#Usydstrikecasualisation.

• Stronger conversion rights for fixed-term staff

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Pickets open at 7am Digital picket from 9: show your solidarity wherever you are in the country! Register at events/nteu-usyd-digital-picket/

• A reduction in academic casualisation by 25% and its conversion into 150 FTE permanent teaching and research jobs

• A staff member cannot be subject to more than one change management program over the life of the agreement that would result in redundancy

Support Sydney Uni NTEU members on their 4th day of strike action this WednesdayyearAugust17

As for more fundamentally transforming bargaining –Labor’s national platform says it will improve access to collective bargaining, including where appropriate through multi-employer bargaining. I’ll come to that in a minute – first, let’s consider something that few people are talking about (as far as I’m aware) …

Organising for better pay & conditions


• unilateral termination of agreements on spurious ‘public interest’ grounds, pushing workers back onto awards & recasting agreement negotiations in favour of employers – pioneered in the higher education sector in the Murdoch University case, of course.

We don’t have support for genuine collective bargaining in the FW Act – we have a framework of enterprise bargaining, in which employers make agreements with employees, and unions play a role where they are strong enough.

• ‘small scope’ agreements, where employers do a substandard agreement with a few employees – but with a wide scope clause that enables the agreement to be applied to a much larger workforce (legitimised by the courts in cases beginning with John Holland Construction seven years ago)

Labor’s election policy says it would address some of the glaring problems in the FW Act that employers have exploited to avoid bargaining with unions, i.e.:

The industrial & political context of bargaining post - the May federal election IT’S GREAT that we now have a federal Labor Govt, but we are still stuck with the industrial relations legislation enacted by the last one, made worse by a decade of employer gaming and judicial watering down of the already weak provisions for collective bargaining and the right to strike. The focus will now be on the IR reform process - and the Jobs & Skills Summit in ForSeptember.unionslike ours, it’s going to be a matter of pushing Labor to ‘go bolder’ than its policy commitments (in that respect, the Greens’ strong election result could be very useful).

The lesson from 2009 is that Labor cannot buy into business concerns (remember ‘balancing flexibility & fairness’?!) – the first year of this first term is the time to rewrite the Fair Work (FW) Act with the goal of rebuilding collective worker power. So what does that look like, and where might things end up?

NTEU SENTRY | Aug | Vol. 4 - No. 2

• So Labor will knock those two damaging business strategies over and improve the good faith bargaining provisions, with greater access to resolve intractable negotiations through arbitration.

Broader Union Reform of the bargaining system

Anthony Forsyth RMIT University

Multi-employer bargaining might also be useful to deal with: • the creation of new business entities by some universities, that take them out of current agreements. • the many for-profit providers that have emerged in the sector in recent years.

Broader Union

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So in some ways, this has been an effective mechanism –especially in smaller workplaces where it’s not as difficult to show majority support.

But how much more effective could this be if the union could legally pursue claims against two or more universities in the same bargaining round (e.g. a group of regionally-based universities)?

Employees and unions can only bargain, and take industrial action, for an agreement with a single business or part of a business. That worked fine when we still had many large worksites, like factories, where thousands of employees worked for the same employer.

So if the big banks, or Telstra, persisted with their individual contracts approach – a union could get an MSD from the FWC, compelling the employer to bargain. But the union has to prove that a majority of the employees who will be covered by the agreement want to bargain. This can be established through a workplace ballot, or simpler methods like petitions – and MSDs have been granted in many workplaces on that basis.

However, MSDs are not working in relation to renewal of agreements – and this is playing out in higher education right now. For example, at RMIT, our Agreement expired more than a year ago. NTEU wants to enter into a new Agreement, but our VC told staff in May this year the University won’t begin negotiations until the RMIT NEXT Strategy is finalised, which could be early 2023. In the meantime, we were given a 2% pay increase. Deakin has also stalled bargaining, although with a 3.75% Theincrease.only way to compel RMIT to start negotiating is through an MSD – but it’s very difficult to prove majority support among over 6000 staff. Even through a petition, all casuals on the books at the time majority support is assessed would be included. The reform needed here is to remove the requirement to show majority support for a renewal of the Agreement. Instead, there should be a statutory requirement on all parties to start bargaining for a new EA, say, no later than three months after the current Agreement has expired. Industry-wide bargaining This is getting more attention in the reform debate. We need to address this central problem - enterprise bargaining was designed 30 years ago, for an economy that no longer exists.

The MSD problem Majority support determinations (MSDs) were Labor’s solution to the problem (under the Howard Coalition’s laws) of employers refusing to bargain.

But businesses in key economic sectors like food production, logistics, warehousing, building management and ‘big box’ retail have hived off large parts of their operations to other entities. They have used labour hire, supply chains, independent contracting, & the fiction of ‘flexible gig work’ to distance themselves from responsibility for minimum employment standards – and collective bargaining.

So we need to reconfigure bargaining to allow multiemployer agreements that overcome these business models. And if we are going to lift wages, workers will need the boost to bargaining power that comes from being able to negotiate – and strike – across entire industries. That includes in higher education – where an industry-wide approach is adopted to formulating claims to be advanced nationally.

Anthony Forsyth is a Distinguished Professor in the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT University. He blogs on workplace issues at:

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In the meantime, bargaining for NTEU members continues under the current FW Act. This week’s EA at Western Sydney University, including 150 extra permanent positions, shows gains can be won even under these imperfect laws. But more will be possible under legislation that places workers at the centre of the regulatory system.

There should also be another gateway to multi-employer bargaining – based on its necessity to improve the wages and conditions of particular workers in sectors like cleaning, security or child care, where the absence of bargaining has left workers on award or sub-award conditions. You could access multi-employer bargaining for these workers regardless of whether employee support thresholds have been met, as determined by the FWC. Industrial action There’s a lot that needs fixing here – we don’t have a proper right to strike in Australia. Workers need to be able to take political protest action, and to strike outside the confined window of bargaining for a new Agreement, which has been narrowed even further by FWC rulings terminating protected action, e.g. bans on results by the NTEU, because of ‘harm’ caused to students.


This inevitably raises the question – how do you determine the workers’ preferences? This has to be assessed through achievable thresholds of employee support. Rather than always having to prove ‘majority support’, we need to think about – what level of support would show a union has legitimacy from the workforce to bargain on their behalf, for an agreement at the level they want. Across an entire industry, that might only need to be 1000 employees or 10% of the workforce (that’s the threshold to kick-start NZ’s new system of industry-level Fair Pay Agreements).

The Greens’ 2022 election policy states that: ‘Workers should be free to collectively bargain at whatever level they consider appropriate and with whoever has real control over their work, whether at a workplace, industry, sector or other level.’

Broader Union Industry or multi-employer bargaining must be based on the principle that the workers decide the level on which they want to bargain.

What’s ahead

The shape of these important reforms – and those to combat insecure & gig work, and return labour hire to its original purpose – will be determined over the next 6 months.

The process for taking protected industrial action should also be simplified – the complex ballot requirements provide too many opportunities for employers to oppose industrial action, or slow it down. I’ve heard some unions want to go back to the 1993 IR Reform Act provisions –union simply had to give the employer 3 days’ written notice of proposed industrial action,with no secret ballot requirements. That looks good to me – along with implementing the Greens’ commitment to industrial action rights that are not ‘limited to artificially restricted bargaining periods’.

Employers are already talking up the need for productivity gains to underpin any changes to the bargaining laws. And they want the Jobs Summit to consider weakening the ‘better off overall test’ for agreement approvals. Labor needs to hold firm & (this time) not give the business bleating any oxygen. When the Coalition is in government, unions never get a look-in – as we saw with the succession of employer and even Liberal Party appointments to the FWC.

DANI COTTON, casual employees representative on the NTEU University of Sydney Branch Committee, spoke to the Friday Session about the campaign around winning Gender Affirmation Leave.

It’s not about waiting around for the ‘perfect’ union. Of course, we want full density, we want full adherence to NTEU’s action. That’s the big picture. But we can’t afford to wait around for the perfect union before we take action. We need to be practical, to take up the struggles all around us, issues that come up, whether that’s inside or outside of bargaining, whether it’s social issues, or an issue for only a particular work area. This is where I wanted to bring in some of my experiences in fighting for gender affirmation leave. At Sydney University, following the circulation of a draft log of claims, our campaign started with a number of unionists (including both trans and cisgender members) started a small open letter calling for the union to strengthen its claim. After reading our letter the union immediately changed the claim to better reflect what we needed on the ground.


Having these meetings and input is essential: it means hearing the voices of people impacted and learning the problems properly. We learned about the realities of transphobic bullying by managers, we heard stories of those who had pushed unsuccessfully for leave improvements in the past. This also gave us the organising base to build real action, and put pressure on the university to make gender affirmation annual, not “one-off”. This included an open letter signed by over 300 people, a powerful campaign video with around 30 staff and students from across the campus explaining why Management should listen to the union. We also worked with community organisations to build community demonstrations which demanded annual gender affirmation leave, and strong NTEU contingents to those demonstrations.

The National Campaign for Gender Affirmation Leave


“Bottom up organising, not action at the negotiating table, is what will make the difference to real wins during enterprise bargaining.

NTEU SENTRY | Aug 2022 | Vol. 4 - No. 2 Broader Union 24 Dani Cotton

Grassroots organising

Then once bargaining hit proper, we started getting more organised. That meant having meetings, talking about our demands, and campaigning.

The NTEU has won several important concessions, including a one-off bank of 30 days leave and ways to access personal leave for gender affirmation. But there is still distance between the NTEU and Sydney University management, with management insisting that annual gender affirmation leave is not necessary.

Not only was this University of Sydney-specific, but it also blew out into a national campaign.

Following this, we saw a renewed emphasis and energy on the national claim for gender affirmation leave. This

After a decision by National Council, we saw probably the biggest union meeting about trans rights we’ve seen, with 130 attending, and talking about the kind of fighting union we need to oppose transphobia in every way.

Broader Union 25 is a huge credit to Amy Sargeant, the head of QUTE, who played a key role, and Alison Barnes who supported us in that fight, as well as all the rank-and-file activists and organisers who are still fighting to carry this Everythrough.unionist can support our campaign by displaying the NTEU poster in their lunch room or office, signing the petition to support the University of Tasmania branch, and standing for gender affirmation leave across the sector. We’ve seen wins. Unions are leading the way on gender affirmation leave. After taking strike action, the NTEU WSU branch won an agreement with 20 days per annum of gender affirmation leave. Likewise, the Australian Services Union at Geelong Library won 20 days per annum of gender affirmation leave after taking strike action. The Finance Sector Union is petitioning for gender affirmation leave in agreements at most major banks. Places where you have a union fighting is where we have the best wins. The big picture is that our sector is under attack. We’re all still reeling from the COVID crisis, from the decades of cuts. I’m a casual member, and casual and fixed term staff make up three quarters of the workforce at my university and similar proportions across the country. We’ve got a long way to go but now is a pivotal moment for change. This same approach we saw for gender affirmation leave is what we need at every branch and on every issue. Every fight, every issue, can help build our union to be stronger.”

Dani, Anthony, Damien and National Bargaining Co-ordinator Wayne Cupido spoke at a very popular Friday Session on Bargaining (we had over 650 people register for the Session and over 300 attended). If you missed the Session you can watch a recording of it here

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• Representation of NTEU, EI and the ACTU in international bodies (WTO and ILO) on trade policy and labour standards.”

• The establishment of an industrial agreement dealing with the use and abuse of fixed term contracts in Victorian colleges (1985) - the first ever such industrial instrument which laid the foundations for the extensive regulation of contract employment across Australia.

• One of the principal architects of NTEU’s national coordinated bargaining strategy and the key negotiator in establishing initial Collective Agreements in Victoria (1992 -96) and subsequently in many other parts of the country.

Ted will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues in the trade union and labour movements. Vale comrade!

“Ted commenced work with the Council of Academic Staff Associations (CASA) – the Victorian affiliate of the Federation of College Academics – as Research Officer (1982), Industrial Officer (1984) and Secretary (198693). With the formation of NTEU in 1993, Ted became the foundation secretary of the Victorian Division and subsequently assumed the post of National Assistant Secretary in 1997.

Then General Secretary Grahame McCulloch gave the following Life Membership notation for Ted at the 2010 National Council.

• A critical role in the merger of SSAU and TESS to form UniSuper and his subsequent emergence as Deputy Chair of the Fund. As a leading member of the UniSuper Board he has protected the 17% employer superannuation contribution and used his superior negotiating skills to prevent the erosion of superannuation standards by employer representatives advocating so called flexibility.

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Ted’s personal capacities and capabilities are well known to his many friends and colleagues not only in NTEU but also in the wider labour movement – exceptional intellectual and analytical ability, sharp political and negotiating skills, integrity and moral rigour and a highly refined rhetorical ability. Using these skills he has been a leading industrial and policy advocate in the Australian university and college systems, in the Labor Party at local Victorian and National levels, and in the trade union movement nationally and internationally. His achievements are extensive and of enduring value to NTEU members throughout Australia, and include:

TED RETIRED in 2010 after a career spanning three decades with NTEU and one of its predecessor unions.

Former NTEU National Assistant Secretary Ted Murphy sadly passed away on 8 August.

• Ensuring the maintenance of NTEU’s high industrial standards in all Collective Agreements through his role as ‘gate keeper’ of the mandatory settlement pointsleading to the epithet Dr No.


Broader Union Ted Murphy (1957 – 2022)

• Successful interventions on behalf of NTEU at ALP National Conferences to protect and enhance key elements of Labor’s higher education policies including public investment, regulatory principles and academic freedom.

• Protections against ill-health termination of academic staff (including preservation of disability pension standards) in the first national academic awards (1988).

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