Australia university staff protest underpayment and understaffing in week strike News
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Australia university staff protest underpayment and understaffing in week strike

University staff across Australia are striking from Monday as academics protest for improved job security, manageable workloads and wages in line with the increased cost of living. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Monday announced the National Week of Action for Better Universities and Better Workplaces, which will see university staff partake in demonstrations, enterprise bargaining, forums, and public events.

NTEU president Dr Alison Barnes says that staff are at “breaking point”. Barnes stated that “for too long, Australian universities have allowed casualisation and its toxic twin, wage theft, to flourish. We are determined to stamp it out”.

In April, the NTEU announced plans to implement a higher education future fund to address workplace inequities faced by public universities. In its submission to the federal government’s Universities Accord, the NTEU proposed several reforms, including a $500 million security for universities to contribute to. This fund would grant public universities access to funding opportunities for workforce development, student and equity access, and provide a crisis-fund for university staff.

The NTEU has engaged several strikes across the country following excessive job cuts, underpayment, and casualisation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The Australian Financial Review found that in 2021, several university vice-chancellors reported an annual surplus exceeding $1 million despite making significant internal staff and wage cuts. The NTEU’s 2023 Wage Theft Report found that higher education workers had been underpaid by over $107 million over the previous three years. The report identified 34 separate incidences of wage theft across 22 universities, with the highest recorded dollar amount withheld by Victorian universities. In February, the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced action against the University of Melbourne after it found that 14 casual staff were underpaid a total of $154,424 between 2017 and 2019.