Convoy of casual uni workers travelling to Canberra to demand action on insecure work

27 July 2022

A group of 30 university workers on casual or short-term contracts and National Tertiary  Education Union representatives will meet with Education Minister Jason Clare today to demand action on universities’ over-reliance on insecure work. 

The NTEU members have travelled to Canberra from across the country to speak of their experience being employed insecurely. 

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said the Education Minister’s first priority should be ensuring secure jobs for university workers. 

“166,000 workers in the higher education sector are employed on casual or short-term contracts. That is more than two thirds of the workforce,” Dr Barnes said. 

“Many have been victims of wage theft and are unfairly denied continuing employment.

“This robs them of the ability to pay bills, get a mortgage, take holidays and plan for their future. 

“Some of their stories are harrowing. Having to make unimaginable decisions between caring for terminally ill parents and facing homelessness. 

“Meanwhile, universities record budget surpluses and vice-chancellors take home million dollar plus salaries. 

“Higher education in Australia is in crisis. More than 35,000 jobs were cut at the height of the pandemic.

“Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Education Minister Jason Clare must help the sector recover not only from the pandemic but from a decade of destructive Coalition policy and chronic underfunding of public higher education.” 

Casual worker Toby Priest said “I have been regularly employed in each of the past 17 years at Flinders University and have been a casual academic teaching staff member in every semester since 2011.

“Despite taking my case to the Fair Work Commission, I have not been able to secure a continuing position. 

“The insecurity means I have to work more than full-time, in five different jobs, to ensure I have the savings in the possible event of losing work. This adds enormous stress to me and my family.”

Casual worker Jennie Jeppesen said “Both of my children have special needs and I have been unable to fully support them due to financial difficulties. I have been employed in the University sector since 2012, and have been denied conversion to more secure work three times. As a single parent, we are either struggling to afford necessities, or I’m working so much I don’t have time for the children. My family needs stability. 

“My 13-year-old daughter cuts my hair because I cannot afford a hairdresser, I cut my son and my daughters hair. We’ve never been on a family holiday.”

Fixed-term worker Lara McKenzie said “I have had nearly 20 different casual and fixed-term appointments, been relocated to six different offices, applied for hundreds of different academic jobs and grants and experienced two university restructures.  

“My most recent academic appointment, as a research fellow working on COVID and vaccination, took nearly four months to process. I received my new contract less than two weeks before the old one was due to expire. 

“The last minute processing of extremely short-term contracts,  which were always going  to be  renewed, has been typical of my experiences of academia and many of my precarious colleagues. 

“It makes it impossible to plan for one’s life and career, to buy a house, experience any level of financial security, apply for long-term funding and relax.”

Contact: Taylah Hill 0466 657 833 | Matt Coughlan 0400 561 480

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