Update: Following the ANU’s move to offer additional provisions to the NTEU focused on limiting casualisation, the NTEU has voted to withdraw notice of industrial action in Week 3. Further detail is contained within this article.

On the 27th of July, National Tertiary Education Union staff members alongside ANU students went on strike demanding better working conditions for staff, higher pay, job security and to decrease unstable casual roles. 

Staff and students met at Kambri at 12:30pm, where members of the NTEU and ANUSA President Ben Yates gave speeches protesting against the poor working conditions for staff, unsteady casual roles and inadequate pay. The rally, which was made up of approximately 300 staff and students, then marched to the chancellery building. 

A staff member at the strikes, who is now a deputy manager at the ANU, alluded to her past experience as a casual, telling Woroni, “If you are a casual, your work is not fixed, you’re always looking around for a job.” She believes, “Casuals need to be supported because they are the ones doing the heavy lifting and they are not treated the way they should be.” 

She described ANU’s reluctance to decrease casual roles in exchange for permanent positions as a “lose-lose situation,” since it revealed an education institution that doesn’t take “teaching” nor “learning” seriously. 

A student Woroni interviewed spoke about their fear of entering the tertiary sector given high levels of casualisation, “Academia is something I’ve always aspired to and really enjoyed, and something I’ve always wanted to do.” The student, who is currently employed casually at the ANU, said the knowledge that “if I wanted to go further than this, I would have to put up with worse conditions, [that] is pretty distressing when you are in your early career.”

ANU students also acknowledged the relationship between teaching and learning conditions with one student explaining, “When staff are paid better, learning conditions will be naturally improved because improved working conditions will allow them to devote more time and energy to their students.”

Staff who participate in industrial action, whether full-time or casual, do not receive pay for the hours they spend striking, in accordance with the Fair Work Act. Thursday’s strike had a significant turnout, with many speakers commenting on the amount of staff and students standing in support of the NTEU. The scale of the strikes demonstrates an escalating pressure on ANU executive management to comply with the NTEU’s demands for better staff working conditions. 

A staff member expressed their frustration at ANU management throughout the bargaining process, “I’m striking today because they [the University] have tried to spin the narrative about the enterprise bargaining process…they have tried to say it is us who have held up the pace of the bargaining process, when in fact it [is] they who have not responded to our demands in a timely fashion.” This frustration extends all the way to the Vice-Chancellor, Brian Schmidt, “About a month ago, as bargaining meetings were underway, and we were locking in the dates for the strike, continuing to ask them [the University] to meet us…in the midst of all of that, Brian sends out his Vice-Chancellor’s blog where he talks about how nice his winery is, and oh, they just had vintage. Great for you Brian, but that’s tone-deaf.”

Following the strikes, the NTEU stated they had “lock[ed] in significant improvements for casual and fixed-term staff…” in negotiations with the ANU. These improvements include an 18.7% reduction in casual, full-time equivalent (FTE) staff based on 2020 total FTE employment figures. The NTEU stated this would result in only 10% of FTE being casuals, “one of the lowest totals in the sector.” To achieve this, 116 casual FTE staff will be offered pathways to non-casual employment. Casuals will also gain access to 12.5% superannuation, 3 days of sick leave annually, and gender affirmation leave. 

In a recent update to staff, the ANU confirmed they had brought the above improvements to the bargaining table. The ANU stated “Throughout bargaining, the University’s position has been to put our staff first.” The update emphasised negotiated improvements in personal and wellbeing leave, academic freedom and freedom of speech, and the right to disconnect from work. The University concluded by noting “[w]e…are on a good path to reaching an agreement soon.  We will continue to engage with staff and provide updates when available.”

Following these improved offerings with respect to casualisation, the NTEU has voted to withdraw its notice of industrial action for Week 3, effectively suspending any further strike action. The NTEU next meets on the 31st of August, where it will “decide further on industrial action.” Woroni will continue to cover industrial action as it progresses on campus.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.