During a September 21 layoff at the Australian University of Newcastle, striking workers spoke to World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), enthusiastically express their opposition to years of job security cuts and the broader pro-business destruction of higher education. Their names have been changed to protect them from possible repercussions.
Ian said, “I estimate that 40 to 60 percent of the university workforce works as models. You have two different types of casual wear. On the one hand, you have PhD students and masters students doing extra work with their degree. Then you have models who are systematically exploited on the basis of annual.
“There are research assistants in a lot of the big labs that are contracted and because of the way grant funding works, they are usually on an annual contract because the funding may run out.
“There are people in this university who have worked from 10 to 15 to 20 years, and they have never had a secure job, even though they have been at the university for a long time doing exactly the same job. I know some people who have worked here for 20 years and still only work in Incidental business. This is standard practice in universities. It is their business model.”
Ian explained that this had “enormous implications for individuals” who had worked for years as models. “If you want to buy a house for example, and you want to get a loan, you won’t be able to, because the bank looks at your accounts and doesn’t know if you’ll have a job next year.”
Asked why universities did this, Ian said, “I think one of the biggest problems with universities has been their over-reliance on international students to bring in income. This is to make up for over 15 years of cutbacks in higher education.”
On the resulting quality of teaching, Ian commented, “When you have fewer staff, you have more and more students in the class, so you spend less time focusing on individual students. In 2010, I had 25 students in each lesson. It was It’s easier for the students to participate in the discussion in class, to get a broader idea of what everyone thinks. Now I have 40-50 students in a tutorial, so it becomes very difficult to evaluate the performance of the students.”
Mark had similar experiences. He said, “In our area, Teaching and Learning, we went from a team of six to a team of two. We had to bring in casual clothes to replace the full-time employees they got rid of and they hit us with five or six projects…
There are more cuts on the table next year. They will do more projects to try to “simplify” courses and degrees, which will lead to fewer courses, which in turn will lead to more cuts in staffing.
“I know people who have been laid off who have been in the business for 20 years, but once they were laid off, they were rehired as casual or under contract. Then they made their way to a full-time job again, then they became redundant again, and it goes on session”.
The university claimed in a recent email to students that the strike would affect their studies and education. Mark commented, “If management is so interested in education, courses and jobs will not be cut. In fact [Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic)] Mark Hoffman himself said that we “supervise” the “students”.
Eric explained, “It took me eight years to get a continuing role. It was only under contract. It was really worrying. You won’t know if you got the job again a week before your contract expires. During summer breaks, you might have to Waiting all summer long to see if you have a job for the next semester, and you may only find out if you have another one a week into the new semester.
You will discuss whether you should apply for more work because you simply do not know. Inflation is going through the roof right now. If I lose my job, I won’t be able to pay for my car or pay my rent.”
“It’s really pushing the talented out of the sector. In the last year, we’ve gone from five colleges to three colleges. There have been massive cutbacks. It’s a big cash cow for management. The amount of work that needs to be done, it’s just going up. We’ve had a lot of important professional and academic staff. who were fired last year.
“Some of those who remain are only working with not enough people to do the amount of work they are expected to do. There is an expectation that everyone is working overtime – it’s an unwritten rule you can say. Everyone tries to do the best work they can do for students, but there are hours Only long during the day.”
Rachel has commented on the global decline in union membership over the past four decades. “Maintaining unions is a very big problem…I think the united collective struggle of university employees across the country will be more effective than what we are doing now in this strike.
I think there is a problem in the union where the top officials get much higher wages than the ordinary workers. There are a lot of financial incentives for high-level positions, so you have something of a position of excellence.”
Another worker said: “It is very difficult to have a sector-wide strike, not only in higher education but in all sectors. We can have a strike recognized by the Fair Work Committee only when we are in an institutional bargaining period and when we have satisfied A number of criteria put a strike on the table as a legal option for us, or else we could be fined and fired for doing so.”
These laws were drawn up by the trade unions themselves, in cooperation with the Labor Party. Enterprise bargaining is designed to subject workers to the requirements of employers. It was first introduced in the 1990s, as part of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) price and income agreements with the Hawke and Keating Labor governments. It was also entrenched under the Fair Work Acts that the Rudd and Gillard governments introduced to operate from 2007 to 2013.