Now on the agenda: a better deal for the academic precariat

The question is who should be paid what

The National Tertiary Education Union has withdrawn from negotiations with ANU for a pilot scheme to improve conditions for long-term casual academic staff.

What’s going on: A management-union working group is said to have been working on a model that converted hours worked by casuals into a fractional full-time/on-going job. ANU observers say the union thinks any scheme needs to pay people more and management wants it to be cost-neutral.

Any such argument involves evidence whether or not the hours casuals are paid for are those that they work – which is an issue at campuses across the country.

Casuals claim they are treated as “teaching mules” with real workloads – preparing, teaching, marking and counselling students – that take way more time than they are paid for.

More teaching-only positions also affronts an article of NTEU faith, that academics time should be split, 40 per cent teaching, 40 per cent research and 20 per cent service.

Unless talks restart it is likely that the NTEU will make wages and conditions for causals part of enterprise bargaining talks at ANU, due this year.

The university responded yesterday that, “casual staff make a significant contribution to ANU and we recognise this. We welcome further discussions with the union as well as the entire ANU community on this matter.”

Meanwhile at Monash U: There is a sort-of similar discussion at Monash U, where VC Margaret Gardner proposes reducing the insecurity of PhD students who also have casual teaching or research-support jobs. She suggests fixed-term appointments so they can get what casuals can’t – incremental pay rises and sick leave. Professor Gardner wants an agreement with the NTEU and, “more generally” staff, before enterprise bargaining gets going (CMM April 1).

What could be next: Conditions of casual teaching staff is an issue the union might run hard on in negotiations for new agreements. The union’s national leadership is criticised by ginger-groups of mainly casual academic staff which argue they have born the Covid-19 cost of university savings measures. Monash U casuals are unhappy about being left-out of discussions with the university on the fixed-term appointment proposal.

Across the board substantial pay-rises for university staff are not likely in the new round of bargaining.  But the union could go hard on more money for casual staff, either by increases in hourly rates, or more hours per task.