Media Release: No Freedom of Speech for NTEU at Macquarie University Orientation Week
Following industrial action by members of the Macquarie University Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), including work bans in 2010 and action on Information Day on January 5th this year, University Management appear set to follow a policy of silencing dissent by refusing to allow NTEU to operate a stall during Orientation Week 2011.
NTEU is seeking to book a stall in order to distribute information to students about the Union’s role in the University and about workplace rights, especially the protections that apply to young, casual workers such as students. NTEU also aims to inform students about the current industrial situation at the University and explaining the reasons for and impact of impending industrial action in Week 2 of first semester.
The Macquarie University Enterprise Agreement guarantees staff the right to “express opinions about the operation of the University and higher education policy more generally”, including “the right to express unpopular or controversial views”. The Vice-Chancellor, Steven Schwartz, has also affirmed on his blog the importance of dissent and the expression of controversial views as vital aspects of academic freedom.
This latest move is a continuation of attempts by various University officials to silence NTEU voices. It began in 2010 with the VC’s blog moderator censoring NTEU members’ posts critical of the Management’s stance on enterprise bargaining, budgeting and strategy, and continued during the Information Day action with instructions issued to a DJ to turn up the music in order to drown out speakers at an NTEU rally. The speakers at this rally included Dr John Kaye, MLC and Unions NSW Deputy President Ms Sally MacManus, as well as NTEU office-bearers and members. As Dr Kaye remarked in his well-received speech, the instructions to turn up the music seem to reflect Vice-Chancellor Steven Schwartz’s belief in competition in higher education – as long as he wins the competition.
According to emails from O-Week organisers, the refusal to grant NTEU a stall is based on their judgment that NTEU is not an “internal” organisation, has nothing to do with students and has aims that are “incongruent” with the aims of O-Week. The organisers claim that the O-Week policy is to grant stalls in the following order of “priority”: 1) student organisations, 2) internal University organisations/offices, 3) “approved” Chaplains/religious groups and 4) “mutually approved sponsors”. Since the NTEU Macquarie Branch consists entirely of staff, many of whom are also students, and most of whom have responsibility for teaching students and/or supporting and administering student programs, it is extraordinary that the University would class it as anything other than an internal group. As one NTEU member put it, ‘this is not a matter of space, but a matter of free speech and intellectual freedom.’
‘It seems that the O-Week organisers, like Macquarie management, are still living in a Howard-era HEWRRs/WorkChoices fantasy-land, where unions had to justify their very existence rather than being seen as a legitimate part of a workplace community,’ Branch President Cathy Rytmeister said today. ‘The WorkChoices regime was thrown out by the Australian people in 2007 – but somehow Macquarie management seems unaware of this. Religious groups, commercial “sponsors” such as banks and other organisations such as the armed forces (who have booked stalls in the past) are to be accorded priority over the University’s own staff and students. It is extraordinary that O-Week organisers are willing to allow students to be informed about serving in the army but not about basic social justice and workplace rights!’
Despite this setback to NTEU’s access to facilities for distributing information, Union members are continuing to prepare for the industrial action to take place in Week 2 of first semester, in accordance with the resolution of a General Meeting of over 130 members on 22nd December 2010.
Branch President Cathy Rytmeister affirmed that “staff are demanding a resolution of bargaining that includes a decent pay offer from Management and restoration of conditions taken away under the Howard Government. Staff have made it very clear: they are prepared to build and sustain a long-term industrial and community education campaign in pursuit of these bargaining outcomes.”
With Semester 1 quickly approaching and no indication of a shift from Management on key issues, the NTEU Macquarie Branch warns that demonstrations and strikes will disrupt lectures, tutorials and campus activities throughout the new semester unless agreement can be reached.
For further information and comment:
Cathy Rytmeister, NTEU Macquarie Branch President
Cathy.Rytmeister@mq.edu.au, Ph. 0466 144 384 or (02) 9850 9719
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