In Campus Morning Mail Leo Goedegebuure asks “how completely unreal can we get? Academics criticising the NTEU for working with university managements on a way forward is completely beyond me”.

Leo is referring to the recent Guardian article where university workers criticise the National Tertiary Education Union’s national executive for flagging concessions they will offer in negotiations with university managements, without consultation with their membership.

Leo had to pinch himself over this response. Maybe Leo finds the response unfathomable because he doesn’t understand the concept of union democracy and that the membership are the union. University workers are angry that the union entered into negotiations with university managements and only sent an email to staff flagging possible concessions after the fact.

So unilaterally, without consultation, the national executive of the union decided on behalf of the membership, the conditions staff might be willing to sacrifice! Only much later have some campuses received a survey asking members which conditions they would be willing to concede. Until some campuses received surveys nearly a week later, the members have had no voice in the process.

Leo also had to pinch himself over the reactions which he describes as “self-interested” and that “collectively we have to find a way forward”.  There is nothing collective about the national executive entering negotiations with management or about the flagging of concessions which if are forced on us will see thousands of university workers suffering.

Leo also writes it is “completely beyond me how academic colleagues who are among the best paid in the world can come out and criticise the NTEU for sitting down with university management working out a way forward”. But not everyone in the university sector is a highly paid academic. Universities are kept afloat by thousands of casual academics, fixed term research academics and casual and contract professional staff.

For the insecurely employed and low paid staff employed in universities reducing pay by any amount will create hardship – our rent and bills still need to be paid. For many university workers, their income is the only one in the household – especially since the crisis hit. And there’s no guarantee even with a pay cut that one more person will keep their job as a result.

The government has demonstrated they have hundreds of billions of dollars to hand out to save the economy and the university sector should be a priority for a bailout with no conditions.

University workers play a hugely important role in society and our union should be organising a national campaign not offering suggestions to a Liberal government education minister whose party has not been a friend of the sector. Over decades rank and file union members have spent countless hours negotiating with management during enterprise bargaining, yet in some universities, management’s response has been to rip up the enterprise agreement or run non-union ballots. Members need a voice in negotiations with management.

Kaye Broadbent is a casual researcher, Central Queensland University


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