WORDS | Raelee Lancaster & Emma Vlatko
On 11 March, Macquarie University’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members went on strike. Macquarie joined a string of universities across the country taking part in industrial action over new Enterprise Agreement negotiations. The Enterprise Agreement is responsible for managing University staff conditions.
“We’re on strike today in pursuit of improved wages and conditions so that we can also provide better teaching, learning context and expertise for students,” said Senior Lecturer Dr Lousie Thornthwaite, “the employer was not agreeing to CGI wage increases.”
A spokesman for the Vice Chancellor rebuffs these claims. “The University has proposed a fair pay rise to academic staff averaging three per cent per year over the life of the agreement,” the spokesman stated. “This is in line with other universities, and should ensure Macquarie retains and attracts high quality teaching and research staff. The university also has a responsibility to ensure the financial stability of the organisation, and so it can’t agree to pay increases that are not sustainable in the long-term.”
Whilst a pay rise is important, Macquarie’s NTEU President, Cathy Rytmeister, believes it’s not the main concern. Instead, she says that the key issues are the lack of permanent teaching staff, the high number of casual employees, the overbearing workloads, and extraordinarily high student to staff ratios. “People love working here,” she said, “but we’re at the stage where our workloads are too high and we can’t do our job as effectively as we should.”
Although Grapeshot asked for comment’s on these issues, the statement released by the Vice Chancellor’s spokesman contained no obvious response. Instead, it talked up the progress of the on-going negotiations, “the university and NTEU have already agreed on a large number of conditions.” The spokesperson also expressed disappointment at the union for taking “the form of industrial action that impacts upon student learning.”
However, Ms Rytmeister defended the actions, arguing that it was necessary in order to gain the university’s attention.“We’ve been bargaining for better working conditions with the university for nine months, and we’ve hit a stalemate where the university doesn’t want to shift on certain things,” she said. “If we don’t take action now, you [students] will end up with bigger and bigger classes, a lot more