Insecure work in Australia’s tertiary education sector.

National Tertiary Education Union National Organiser,Michael Evans, discusses what’s going on in Australian universities.

Insecure employment is the most significant issue facing Australian university staff. NTEU estimates based on available data are that about 68% of the current university workforce is insecurely employed, either as casual staff (45%) or on fixed-term appointments (23%).

Even the regulatory body, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s (TEQSA) first ever Key Risk Findings Report, released in July 2019, confirmed that a heavy reliance on casual academic staff and high student : staff ratios are two of the factors presenting the greatest risks to Australia’s higher education sector. These two factors not only substantially undermining the quality of life for individual staff caught on a never ending treadmill of insecure employment, but that it also represents a substantial risk to the quality of students’ educational experience.

Insecure employment carries with it many disadvantages apart from the insecurity itself: lesser access to all forms of paid leave, restrictions on accrual of long service leave, poorer levels of superannuation, as well as limits on access to finance to support life goals.

Over the last few rounds of enterprise bargaining NTEU has had a two-pronged approach to addressing insecure employment:

- Negotiate with employers about creating more on going jobs where appropriate; and

- Seek to ensure that insecurely employed staff are realistically and adequately compensated for the time actually spent on lecture preparation and delivery, tutorials and follow-up with students, essay and exam marking and any other duties.

NTEU continues to run enforcement campaigns to address issues of wage theft and conversion to more secure employment to achieve just outcomes for the staff concerned, but also to build membership and activism in the workplace.

The just concluded round of bargaining has resulted in the majority of university agreements expiring around 30 June 2021. This opens up the potential for NTEU to run broader campaigns around major issues such as insecure employment during the next bargaining round.