Today, the Macquarie University Community – staff and students – gathered in the central courtyard to put endorse a list of matters of concern to be presented to the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Steven Schwartz. This meeting was the culmination of a week of industrial action, which saw NTEU members from each of the four faculties taking action on a designated day. The action was a continuation of the successful ban on transmission of examination results conducted by the NTEU late last year.
The meeting attracted around 300 students and staff to the Central Courtyard, who gathered to hear student and staff speakers present a range of grievances over bargaining, overcrowding, facilities, workloads, budget cuts and job security. The meeting endorsed a document calling on the VC to respond to the University on these and other matters, after which a sizeable subset of meeting attendees marched on the VC’s office, chanting and singing, to present the document to him.
Some very alarmed security people had no idea what to do when we walked into E11A, except to say that the VC was not in his office and could we please go outside and not use that microphone in here. We said that we had no intention of leaving, but that we’d be happy to speak with a representative of the VC, or for a small delegation to go and meet with a nominated person from the Executive.
We suggested that the Provost might speak to us, since she is the Senior Deputy and represents the VC in his absence, and we had just seen her go upstairs to her office. The security officer tried to tell us that the Provost was also out of the office. We pointed out that we’d just seen her walk in, to which his response was “that wasn’t Judyth”! After the roars of laughter died down, we decided that we’d just make ourselves at home by taking a seat on the floor of the foyer and waiting for someone acceptably important to come and speak with us. We whiled away the time by inviting staff and students to relate their stories of the problems of overcrowding, inadequate staffing, course cuts and increasing workloads. So, OK, that WAS a bit depressing – but it did demonstrate that the problems are both chronic and widespread, and built our sense of mutual support.
After about half an hour or so, the VC finally appeared, to the cheers of the gathered staff and students, and spoke briefly with me and with Genevieve Kelly, the NTEU NSW Division Secretary. Through the chanting (What do we want? Job security! When do we want it? NOW!), I managed to hand him a copy of the document endorsed by the meeting. He claimed that the University would be very happy to negotiate job security, but that this wasn’t a negotiation, it was a demonstration. We responded that yes, it was a demonstration and that we were looking forward to subsequent negotiations. The VC then went to his office and the crowd dispersed peacefully.
I have since sent the document to the VC by email. In this email I stated that, on behalf of the people at the meeting today, I would be happy to receive his response, but I suggested that he might prefer to hold a Town Hall meeting to provide a response to the whole University Community. I stated that we would naturally encourage staff and students to attend such a meeting.
In other news, Tim Sprague has stated that only 24 people have notified that they took strike action (so far!) and that he is expecting NO MORE THAN 50 notifications. Since we have reason to believe that around 50 people took action in the Arts Faculty alone, Tim’s estimate of participation appears, as usual, to be wildly inaccurate. Get those forms in folks!!!
I congratulate NTEU members on their commitment to supporting our bargaining claims by taking action, and to thank you for ensuring that the bargaining team returns to negotiations next week backed by a very clear demonstration of that commitment. The events of this week, and particularly today, can leave the Management in no doubt of the level of anger and widespread dissatisfaction with the way they have managed not only the bargaining but a whole range of internal matters from enrolment to facilities to budgeting. They can no longer maintain their delusion that “only a few” people are concerned about these matters.
I would also like to thank our wonderful Branch Committee who have worked so hard to make this action a success, the Science Collective who have worked collegially and conscientiously to raise the issues around budget cuts in their Faculty and to maintain a strong campaign around this as well as around the bargaining issues, and the Arts campaign team who have been fantastic in their support, devising press releases, designing posters and drafting emails.
Although I am usually reluctant to single out individuals for fear of offending those not mentioned (who are also making extremely valuable contributions), I think that it is only fair to acknowledge and express my great appreciation for the leadership and involvement of Joanne Jamie, Steve Cassidy, Christophe Doche, Brian Orr, Shaun Wilson, Norbert Ebert, Pauline Johnson and Sharni Chan. I know that there are many others involved and active, but these people in particular have provided very valuable advice, guidance and support to the Branch and to me personally and, more importantly, to their own colleagues in the Faculties of Science and Arts. Thank you.
Thanks too must go to our NSW and National NTEU officers and staff who have supported our campaign in many, many ways. Genevieve Kelly (NSW Secretary) and Matt McGowan (National Assistant Secretary) in particular have been with us all the way, willing to travel to speak at our meetings (for Matt that means flying up from Melbourne) and to be “on call” for advice and assistance.
We also owe a huge thank you to our wonderful local NTEU staff – Lance Dale, our industrial officer, who has provided amazing support, excellent advice and organising assistance, and Bernard Doherty, our temporary Branch Organiser, who stepped in when Cat Coghlan took maternity leave and has done a fantastic job, hitting the ground running and learning very quickly about the complexity and stress of the position at a time of major industrial action! And of course, we must acknowledge the superb work of Cat in the leadup to and conduct of the action last year that really engaged staff in action and resulted in a real shift in the Management Team’s mindset, if not yet matched by substantive shifts in their position. But we are sure that as we return to bargaining, we will start to see those substantive shifts, and we are confident that with members’ ongoing support, we will achieve the outcomes we desire and deserve.