Australia: Meeting at Newcastle University lays bare union’s refusal to fight job cuts | #students | #parents

A revealing discussion erupted at a National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) meeting at the University of Newcastle (UoN) last week as the union sought to corral academics and staff into another round of enterprise bargaining—the very same framework that has facilitated an ongoing onslaught of cuts to jobs and conditions at universities across the country.

As is the case internationally, corporations and their governments have seized on the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerate a fundamental restructuring of workplace and social conditions, at the expense of workers. By the NTEU’s own estimates, some 90,000 university workers’ jobs were eliminated during 2020, and more cuts are being announced constantly, including at UoN and the universities of Adelaide and Western Australia.

University of Newcastle (

At UoN, according to the Newcastle Herald last month, 150 full-time equivalent (FTE) academic positions and 64 FTE professional positions have been “disestablished,” with 52 percent and 42 percent respectively already vacant, or set to become so this year, through an early retirement scheme and the ending of fixed-term contracts.

A “spill and fill” process is forcing academics and staff to compete for “new” positions, amounting to 92.8 FTE academic staff jobs and 61.2 FTE professional staff jobs. Earlier this year, the consolidation of five faculties into three colleges was also completed, cutting or amalgamating approximately 530 of the university’s 2,200 courses.

As it has nationwide, the NTEU has rejected any unified struggle against this onslaught, instead appealing to management, including via a petition drive, for greater consultation on alternative ways to secure its cost-cutting demands.

A postgraduate student member of the NTEU, and member of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) club at UoN, called for the complete rejection of the union’s enterprise bargaining process. “This has led to disaster after disaster for university staff, academics and students,” he said. “The universities have been able to carry out all of the cuts in previous years through this mechanism, accelerating the restructuring of the universities along corporate lines.

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