Home | On Campus | ‘We want it to be over’: Sydney Uni staff strike again
Staff and students from the University of Sydney on City Road. Picture: Nick Riemer/ Twitter.

‘We want it to be over’: Sydney Uni staff strike again

Staff from Sydney University have gone on strike over casualisation, work conditions and wages for the seventh time since the union began bargaining in August 2021.

On Thursday, hundreds of full-time and casual staff formed picket lines after negotiations stalled between the National Tertiary Education Union and university management.

The union said the industrial action marked the "longest-running strike campaign at any Australian university".

NTEU Sydney University branch president Dr Nick Riemer said the strike was needed to deliver a "message to management".

"It was the best-attended strike we've had in this entire campaign. The numbers speak to how our members view management offer, which they clearly don't accept," Dr Riemer told Campus Review.

"We want it to be over, but not at any cost - management needs to listen."

Enterprise bargaining at USyd began over 20 months ago, but either party have yet to reach an agreement.

Dr Riemer said the union has been doing its best to "expedite" the signing of an agreement but will continue ramping up industrial action unless management shows a "minimum amount of goodwill."

Staff at USyd will strike again for 48 hours at the end the month and towards the end of May if an agreement is not reached.

According to Dr Riemer, management has been showing "contempt" and refused several key claims made by the union, including the compromised claims pushed forward in the "the hope of reaching an agreement."

The NTEU's key demands include reducing academic and administrative staff workloads, reducing casualisation, improving Indigenous employment and a 5 per cent staff pay rise per annum.

Sydney University has offered a 15.4 per cent compounded pay increase from this year to 2026 and a $2000 one-off cash payment.

Dr Riemer said the pay offer is "nothing short of insulting" when the university recorded a $1.04 billion surplus in 2021.

He said since the end of the last enterprise agreement, staff at USyd has experienced a drop in real wages due to inflation.

In 2021 and 2022, the university gave staff a 2.1 per cent pay increase, with an extra $1000 cash payment, while inflation was 2.1 per cent in 2021 and 7.8 per cent in 2022.

"If we don't want to go backwards, we need a pay offer now that makes up for that lag," Dr Riemer said.

"Their offer amounts to only a 3.3 per cent increase over the five years, which is lower than the average annual increase (expiry to expiry) than other universities like WSU, ACU or UTS, all of which are less rich than Sydney Uni."

The average annual increase for staff at Western Sydney University amounts to 3.67 per cent, 3.64 per cent for the Australian Catholic University and 3.54 per cent for UTS, according to the NTEU.

Additional demands by the NTEU include pay for all hours worked for casual staff, paid sick leave and a pathway to permanent positions with the creation of 'balanced roles', which would consist of research and teaching and limit the amount of education focussed roles.

USyd NTEU casuals representative Ms Finola Laughren said the union wants long-term casuals who meet requirements to have the option to decide whether they go down a research or teaching pathway.

"It is almost impossible for casuals to convert into balanced roles at Usyd," Ms Laughren told Campus Review.

"Long-term casuals who manage to move into education focussed roles have to do five years of unpaid research to transition into a balanced role.

"With the current intensive teaching load, finding time to do research is hard, especially if it is not included in your workload metrics."

The NTEU estimates casuals, including fixed-term contract, represents 72 per cent of the workforce at USyd.

"Casuals are the majority of the workforce; without them, the university could not function," she said

"Yet, management treats casuals as interchangeable, rather than the highly skilled, qualified, passionate researchers, educators and professional staff we are."

In their offer, Usyd said they have proposed to reduce the number of casual sessional staff by 20 per cent and create an additional 300 continuing academic roles.

The university said it will also prioritise 50 new teaching and research roles and 25 per cent of new education-focused roles for eligible casual and fixed-term staff.

USyd response

After being contacted by Campus Review, the university said it was "disappointed" the NTEU chose to strike again rather than conclude a protracted agreement.

"We know from speaking to staff many are keen to urgently conclude this long-running discussion so they can receive a wage rise to help them cope with the rising cost of living," a spokesperson said.

"This is a fair and well-structured offer compared to those that have been accepted or proposed in the sector, and it is above average public and private sector wage rises - it is discouraging the NTEU is misrepresenting it to its members.

"We are continuing to negotiate in good faith with staff unions and seek to reach a union-endorsed agreement to put to staff."

Negotiations between the union and management will continue this week.

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One comment

  1. I imagine the ‘pathway to permanent positions’ is a great source of resistance by management, as it is at my [very similar] university. Casuals @ 72 per cent of workforce is shocking. And, have management salaries quietly been restored, now the pandemic is over? Some savings there could generate money for a few more continuing positions.

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