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Western Sydney University staff strike over fair pay and job security

Staff from Western Sydney University (WSU) have gone on strike over insecure work conditions and better wages.

On Tuesday, hundreds of students and full-time and casual staff gathered around the Parramatta South campus after pay negotiations stalled between the union and university management.

The union's demands include a 5 per cent wage rise, higher conversion rates for casuals to permanent roles, and more flexible leave options for staff.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said the university's 2 per cent pay rise offer was "pitiful" and did not account for the current surge in inflation.

"We had been negotiating for what would be a sector-leading casual conversion scheme, but management has taken this hostage to the pay negotiations," said president of the NTEU WSU branch Dr David Burchell.

"University management has not shifted from a low-ball pay offer.

"In the context of rising costs of living, this offer is clearly unacceptable.”

Current inflation rates in Australia have soared to 5.1 per cent, the highest figures recorded since 2001.

Gavin Smith, a NTEU branch member who works full-time in the academic division at WSU, said his colleagues are "fed up and drained".

"Academics have really put in an astronomical effort to keep students engaged and keep learning effective and strong," he told Campus Review.

"They want that effort recognised, they want their contributions to the university and to student learning recognised, and it's not just academics – it's the professional staff that support them at well."

Tuesday's industrial action marks the fourth round of university staff strikes held in NSW this year.

In May, almost all of the University of Sydney was shut down for two days after hundreds of staff and students formed picket lines outside several campus entrances.

WSU academics rallied outside of the Vice-Chancellors office in Parramatta. Picture: Supplied.

The strikes follow the release of the university's annual financial reports which recorded a healthy recovery from COVID-19.

In 2021, Western Sydney University recorded a surplus of $143 million, a considerable increase from the $22 million brought in 2020.

Given employee recruitment at the university has been moving at a "glacial pace", Gavin says, this has compounded staff frustrations.

"We really want to just get back to work and do what we love, but be properly recognised for it and properly compensated for it," he says.

"With the budget surplus and with the change of federal government, the winds of change are certainly blowing in the right direction."

Bystanders present at WSU told Campus Review the general mood among strikers was upbeat, however, the university's vice-chancellor Barney Glover was reportedly absent.

Notable attendees included Greens senator Dr Mehreen Faruqi who told the crowd the new government brought an "opportunity" to lift higher education in the political agenda.

Union members at UTS are expected to strike next, after staff applied for a protected action ballot order with the Fair Work Commission in May.

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