In search of lost bargains: An interview with Scott Fitzgerald, Ryan Mead-Hunter and Francis Russell of the Bargain Hunters podcast


… there is a great bargaining going on, a kind of bartering which weighs up undisclosed values and half-hidden treasures; and this dispute is slowly rising up and forcing its way into the daylight.

Colette, The Vagabond

We discovered Bargain Hunters: The Curtin NTEU EBA Podcast as our own university, Monash, and the local branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), enter their own bargaining round. After years of workers bearing the burden of rapid COVID changes, cost of living pressures, overwork and decades of growing job insecurity, this bargaining round feels different: an opportunity for workers to articulate a vision of the university against the neoliberalised, corporate managerialism that dominates the sector and most workplaces in the country.

We spoke to Scott, Ryan and Francis on Friday the 4th of November, a month after the last installment of their podcast (Episode Six), which was picking up the pieces from a shocking Fair Work Commission decision to prevent Curtin NTEU members from voting on protected industrial action items because of alleged misunderstandings about the meaning of such actions as picking up a phone call. Management was spending money on lawyers rather than wages (Monash is proving no better) to interrupt the rare chance for—as Francis says—workers to claim their voice through direct action. Fortunately, the decision was overturned and the Curtin Branch is, as we write, voting on protected action, for which, as Scott attests, the appetite is strong. With bargaining reaching an impasse, and management’s obstinacy becoming clear, workers are demanding better.

Scott, Ryan and Francis, along with Siân Flynne (featured in Episode Two) are the NTEU Curtin Branch’s bargaining team, joined by the NTEU’s (‘superhero’) Industrial Officer Wayne Cupido (featured in Episode Five). Scott Fitzgerald is the branch president of the NTEU at Curtin University, and Associate Professor in the School of Management and Marketing (due to some elaborate restructuring, as he tells us). With a background in sociology and political economy, his research focuses on the education and cultural sectors and issues of professionalism and governance. Ryan Mead-Hunter is a Senior Lecturer at the Curtin School of Population Health, with a background in engineering and chemistry. Ryan’s research involves, for example, chemical analyses that contribute to workplace safety and medical equipment. Francis Russell is a lecturer in the Humanities Learning and Teaching group, and has written on political philosophy, extremism, biopolitics and social media.

Enterprise Bargaining has a specific legislative history in the industrial relations regime in Australia. Elizabeth Humphyrs, in How Labor Built Neoliberalism, calls enterprise bargaining ‘a key element in the neoliberalisation of industrial relations.’ Enterprise bargaining discourages collective bargaining, which had been an established part of industrial relations since its inception, according to Peter Gahan and Andreas Pekarek. In recent history, if the Howard-era Work Choices directly aimed to break union power and prevent collective bargaining (as Cooper and Ellem argue), the 2009 Fair Work Act, according to Alison Pennington, failed to prevent the erosion of collective bargaining. We spoke to Scott, Ryan and Francis in an effort to understand our own bargaining process and how they are approaching the demanding work of union organising.

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To begin with, we want to explain how the interview came to be. We are members of the Monash Casuals Network and Monash NTEU, and we’re in the process of entering into bargaining negotiations. We’ve been talking about how best to mobilise our members and get engagement in the bargaining process. We’d become aware of the Bargain Hunters podcast through friends and family in Perth (Danni studied at Curtin), and the MCN was inspired by it as a way of communicating with the membership, and the way you’ve made bargaining accessible. [Monash colleagues have recently started our own, My Union Wrote an EBA.] We’re interested in how your personal research interests inform your approach to bargaining, given that each of your research has some relation to working conditions, the politics of work and employment issues.

Scott: My background was in sociology, and I’ve been at Curtin for a long time. My first decade was as a casual, and then on short-term contract, teaching macro-sociology and political economy. And then we were restructured, and management said ‘Anthropology, Sociology, it’s all the same’ and ‘Sociology seems to be a kind of angry discipline.’ I strangely ended up in a business school, teaching organisational theory. I was looking originally at the cultural industries and how precarious work was dominant in those industries. My research transitioned towards teaching as a profession, and how particularly there had been a transformation in WA in how the public schools operated. The principal was seen more as a CEO and the schools as self-operating businesses. Questions of work intensification, deprofessionalisation, and also union responses to those forms of degradation of work are key to my research. It’s a bit harder to smuggle it into units when I’m teaching the MBA course.

Ryan: My original degrees are in engineering and chemistry, and then I ended up getting a job in the then School of Public Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences. My teaching is mainly focused on our health and safety courses, and that’s probably the thing that aligns most with union activities—the idea of everyone working together to look after each other, it’s very much how the responsibility aspects of health and safety works. My research is quite varied, covering air quality, aerosol science and toxicology, with specific health and safety projects related to farm workers and fire fighters.

Francis: My background is in philosophy and cultural studies, and that does mean you come into contact with a lot of post-Marxist and left-wing and New Left thinkers. To be honest, I don’t actually think that’s had much of an impact on how I think about bargaining, or how I approached unionism because if you read that material—which I do, and I love—I think it would convince you that the odds are stacked against us, and that, to quote Heidegger, ‘Only a God can save us.’ The real education I received in unionism that influences me in bargaining came from being a casual worker, something that Scott and Ryan share. That has made me feel more motivated and more optimistic about organising and it’s made me re-read a lot of the academic research in a different light as well, and to be able to read a lot of that material as being more hopeful, than when I was reading it without any kind of praxis connected to it.

 

In the last podcast, you were talking about taking protected industrial action and the obstacles you’d encountered in getting your application through the Fair Work Commission. Could you update us briefly?

Scott: On October 24, there was a full bench of the Commission that quashed the earlier ruling of the Deputy President Melanie Binet, which had tried to alter our Protected Action Ballot Order (PABO). [The Fair Work Act sets out the scope of protected industrial action, widely seen as extremely restrictive and a mockery of the right to strike.] They reinstated the PABO and balloting agent TrueVote, and so at the moment we’re in the process of getting our members to vote for protected industrial action. It’s going remarkably well, and we’ve got high hopes that it will be a resounding success. From talking to members—we’ve got a pre-prepared script talking about why they should vote ‘Yes,’—I usually get through the first sentence and the member says ‘I want to go on strike!’

Francis: We’ve almost got to the point now where our branch and management will have to face the fact that we’re miles apart on all of the major issues. The reason our membership is so enthusiastic about moving towards industrial action is that on the big issues, like reconciliation, casualisation, workload and pay, the branch and management are still far apart.

 

Let’s take a step back from the specifics of bargaining at Curtin and talk about bargaining more generally. We want to demystify the bargaining process a bit, and get a sense of what’s involved. The process is quite opaque, and as newer workers in the industry, what do you think the key things people need to know about bargaining?

Francis: The most important thing for people to learn about bargaining is that it is something that workers have an active stake and agency in. Bargaining is not something that is done to workers by management, or on behalf of workers by representatives. Where we’ve had a lot of good fortune, we’ve been able to work with an incredible industrial officer, who from day one always underlined that the industrial side of bargaining and the campaigning and organising side of bargaining have to be incorporated. Members need to be active participants in bargaining, and recruiting members, organising and agitating, putting pressure on management, both at the job site and in the media.

It can be very easy to think that bargaining works best when you have some kind of virtuoso lawyerly-style performances at the bargaining table. Scott, Ryan and myself have argued very adamantly, and at times very assertively, we do our research and put an enormous amount of time into making sure the clauses we’re putting to the table are consistent and in the best interests of our members. But at the end of the day, you’re just four or five people in a room if you don’t have the membership actively behind you. It can sometimes be easy for the bargaining team to think that it’s all about being in that room, and it can be tempting for the membership to think that bargaining is something that branch leadership do. But it’s something that the membership do and have to do together. The moments where that’s been the most apparent at Curtin are when we’ve held meetings and had up to 300 members present, those are the moments where management really take notice that the union is a force to be reckoned with, and those are the moments where members do feel that there a part of something and that they have agency. If you can get people thinking about bargaining, you just have so much more leverage at the table.

Scott: This process has underlined the fact that bargaining is a question of power not technocratic skills. We’ve presented some really cogent arguments at the table, and management have been in a situation where they’ve just said ‘No.’ To highlight the point that Francis is making, bargaining is part of the wider campaign. For us in the West, it was often seen as something that was done by a bunch of lawyers from Melbourne. Our industrial officer is a superhero but it isn’t as if this process is just lawyers at twenty paces, this is a process of getting our membership involved and showing management the power of our members.

 

This connects to organising as a consistent thing, building membership is something we should be doing all the time. We wanted to ask about something in particular that mystifies us, and that’s the requirement that we bargain in ‘good faith.’ How much good faith are you seeing from management, and what does the requirement that we bargain in good faith mean for the bargaining process?

Ryan: In my experience, good faith bargaining just seems to be the legal minimum requirement that people have to meet to follow through the process as it’s outlined in the Act. We’ve certainly seen things that are a bit odd or unusual, so really it seems that as long as you all show up to the meetings you agreed to attend and you actually discuss the clauses, that seems to be all that good faith bargaining actually requires. In most cases, obviously, we’re civil. Occasionally it gets a bit heated when passions overrun, but there’s nothing in that concept of good faith that prevents someone from coming and just saying ‘No’ to something.

If we take workloads as an example, we have a workload system that is not dissimilar to other universities in terms of trying to allocate staff time to teaching activities, breaking things down to hour increments, having rigid allocations that don’t necessarily take into account the time it actually takes to perform a task or pedagogical requirements of a particular discipline. We tried to present some clauses that would give staff more power to determine workloads and the ability to say ‘No, it actually takes longer to mark the assessments’, or ‘It takes longer to develop this sort of content.’ We thought that was the only way to meaningfully change things, and staff were telling us that they were overworked. Surveys the union has done were telling us staff are overworked. Surveys the university has done are telling the university that staff are overworked. Yet there doesn’t seem to be anything meaningful done to address it. We put a lot of thought into clauses, and the answer was basically ‘No.’ Good faith bargaining sounds like a really great idea and in principle we should all honour it, but in our experience it’s not necessarily meaningful. It’s just a sort of bare requirement you need to meet.

 

We’ve had one official meeting of bargaining at Monash, and the experience is very similar. We’ve got a great log of claims that the union has put together with members, and yet management’s log of claims is this flimsy two-page document with very, very little detail. [Good faith bargaining] seems to conceal the conflictual nature of what’s really going on.

Scott: Many of the clauses we do receive from management are basically: this is the minimum required by the Fair Work Act, or these the National Employment Standards. And we know that, thank you.

Francis: Management at Curtin are bargaining in good faith, because they’re open that they have different interests to workers. We present them with clauses, they reject them. They reject them because they say, ‘That doesn’t fit in with our ambitions for the university.’ [Our] opinion is that management’s ambitions aren’t in the best interests of the people who actually do the work—the support work, the teaching, the research. It is interesting that when you look at Fair Work’s definition of good faith bargaining, there is provision that you’re meant to give reasons and responses for why you don’t agree with certain positions. Management has always done that at Curtin, but they’ve usually done it after a lot of argument to get them to the point where they’ll admit that they don’t like the idea that the union and workers could impede their prerogative, or that the union and workers could have more of a say in terms of how the university is managed. Ultimately, their bargaining in good faith is just that they diametrically opposed interests to most workers.

 

We’re having discussions about cost of living, casualisation of workers, and other issues that have become more mainstream. Joo-Cheong Tham has written that this round of bargaining takes place during a crisis, and proposes ‘to reclaim the ideals of the University’ with the union’s demands at Melbourne University. Can you reflect on the differences between this round of bargaining compared with previous rounds of bargaining?

Scott: Concerns about casualisation and workload were front and centre in the last bargaining round, but I think the context in which union and universities are operating has changed fundamentally. With COVID, we saw staff once again imposed upon in terms of showing good will, and putting in extra effort. Casuals were once again used as the shock absorbers of the sector. People responded quite favourably to the call from their schools and colleagues to work together to get through COVID. But it’s fundamentally changed how people think about the environment now in terms of showing a huge good will and effort on the part of staff and that’s raised to consciousness the requirement of the university to respond in some way.

Why have we shown such great effort for the university to say, ‘Well, thanks. But we’re not going to reduce your workloads or increase your pay.’ With the increasing inflation or CPI, that wage effort discrepancy has become much starker. When people are looking at the fact that their workloads are increasingly unmanageable but they’re facing a decrease in salary. Or in the case of casuals, they’re looking at less work, less security. People are starting to say, ‘Well, is this fair? Are we going to put up with this?’

Francis: Certainly, in this round, we have a significantly more activist approach. We’ve experienced a lot of membership growth, and we’ve managed to get a lot more support and activism from rank and file members. […] It does feel like we’re riding a wave of anger that comes out of COVID. Staff really threw everything they had at keeping the students cared for, and looked after and educated in that period. They expected reasonably that that would be taken into consideration. It seems that management at Curtin have incredibly short memories and they sent out an email thanking everyone for their hard work in 2020 and want to move on. But staff want to see that the university looks after them in the way we looked after the university in 2020 and 2021.

Scott: We’re [bargaining] in a fundamentally different context where [workers] no longer believe that if we just continue along full steam ahead to wherever we’re going, that things will just get better. For most people there’s an iceberg in front of our university, and the sector as a whole. People are saying we need a fundamental rethink about the key drivers in the sector, and that’s playing into the bargaining process as well.

 

How has the Curtin branch specifically mobilised its members for this bargaining round? What do you think about ideas of ‘big bargaining’? Is there scope for some things to remain ‘in the room’, for a certain amount of confidentiality?

Ryan: The really important thing is our communications. We’re lucky to have a really good branch organiser at Curtin, who does a great job of keeping us organised and getting our message out. We’ve been in very regular communication. I don’t remember a time when staff members at Curtin have had this regular communication—so having regular meetings, having the podcast, which just gave us another way of getting the message out and potentially to a much broader audience. One of the biggest challenges we face is that management can communicate with any staff member at any time. We certainly have a right to communicate with our members, but communicating with non-members is difficult. […] We’ve got some members who are really good at media and communications, poster design, [and have been] drawing on their skills to get posters up.

The idea of keeping the membership informed is really important, it goes into engagement. People may be angry or frustrated, but if you can continue the messaging—not just of a negative message about management not coming to the table or giving you a hard time, but also what we’re trying to achieve as well, trying to have the positivity in the message there. That’s certainly something we’ve seen reflected in the great attendance at our meetings, and in our interactions with staff members. It’s not unusual for a staff member to talk to us as we’re walking around campus, saying, ‘Keep up the good work, don’t give up now, we’re with you.’ That’s been really encouraging.

 

Reflecting on the experience of listening to the podcast on the other side of the country, we can confirm that that communication strategy has been really inspiring. Personally, it created a lovely link back to the institution where I [Danni] studied and people I studied with. Looking at both sides, the negative and positive messages about what is even possible, some of the discussions you’ve had about, for examples, First Nations employment targets and the disappointing management response, it was really motivating to hear conversations with First Nations staff members [Max Jackson, a lecturer at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies featured on the podcast in Episode Three], about actually what should and could things be better.

Scott: It changes the dynamic too. We’ve increased communication prior to entering into bargaining. And we had an uptick when management was trying to vary our previous enterprise agreement so that we would miss out on the final and largest pay increase, they tried to say, ‘Either forgo your pay increase, or face redundancies.’ We knocked that proposal back. When we were moving into bargaining, we were looking around at different communication strategies. We were quite persuaded by what David Burchell was doing at Western Sydney University [who featured in Episode Four], short videos. Full credit to Francis for coming up with the idea for a podcast. It allowed us to discuss some of the issues at length, and it gives [members] a further insight into how we’re feeling on the bargaining table.

Francis: Even though in principle I am in favour of being as open and as big as possible when it comes to bargaining, I do agree wholeheartedly with comments Ryan made that (to paraphrase) if you don’t have a big campaign, it’s very foolish to engage in big bargaining. If you don’t have delegates who are really talking to the membership, if you don’t have people who are rocking up to meetings, if you’re meetings don’t put a proposition to your members, if your meetings are just you rattling off bad news to people who are becoming demoralised, then big bargaining is not some kind of deus ex machina that’s going to do anything radical.

When members come up to us and say they feel passionate about an action, we encourage them to table a motion at the next meeting. We began moving towards protected action pretty early compared to some universities, and that’s because a rank and file member tabled a motion putting a time limitation on management to start meaningfully meeting some of our clauses, otherwise we needed to initiate the PABO process. If you have a really big campaign, bargaining and campaigning flow into each other in a way that is open. If you don’t have that delegate structure and if you don’t have that activist sentiment in the membership, then you can bring as many people into the bargaining room as you want but it’s not necessarily going to have the effect you want it to have.

The message, which I think is an inspiring one from Dom Rowe [an NTEU National Organiser] is: talk to non-members. It’s such a basic thing, but you just don’t do it. It’s so easy to get very caught up talking to people who are already members. In the meantime, the majority of university workers are not even in the conversation or in the union. The more we realise that management were just going to reject our clauses, the more we thought: it’s more important that everyone spends every minute they can recruiting, talking to non-members, bringing people into the campaign, and then at a later stage we can worry about getting into the finer points of wording and clauses.

 

In the podcast, you talk about issues faced by Curtin members and they’re quite common across the university sector—things like workloads, jobs security, low wage growth and casualisation. [There have also been recent wage theft accusations at Curtin, a situation shared by many universities, including Monash, Deakin, LaTrobe and Melbourne Universities.] Can you talk through one issue that is key to your members, and the way in which management has responded, and how bargaining has gone on one particular issue?

Ryan: We’ll use casualisation as a good example. Curtin, like other universities, relies very heavily on casual staff for a lot of the teaching, but also increasingly areas like student recruitment and engagement and student services offices as well. What we tried to do, inspired by what other universities are doing [such as Western Sydney University], is to put in a process where we could have continuing positions created to move casuals who wanted to move into those positions. Like a lot of other places, there’s people who have been working here for ten years on casual contracts, teaching the same units pretty much every year. It’s ongoing work, it’s not ad hoc or short term in nature. It’s a regular, predictable amount of work. What we’re trying to do is put in stricter rules around when you can actually engage a casual. [We’re trying] to give people who have been doing all this hard work for Curtin for a long time actually the reward of the protections of a longer term contract, continuing position where they would get things like a research allocation to pursue their research, they would get career development opportunities and all those things that come with secure, long-term employment that aren’t really a focus when you’re being paid by the hour for the work done.

It was really odd talking to some of our HR team who complain that casuals don’t check their emails. Of course they don’t check their emails. They don’t get paid to check their emails! They’ve got other things to be doing. They’re out there trying to make a living. An obvious way to address is to put people on longer, more secure forms of employment. It’s beneficial both ways. Obviously we’re looking for benefits to workers, giving them security, letting them go out and plan for the future, have money you could meaningfully put away for a time. We’ve had casual members come to the bargaining table to speak about those issues. It was really interesting looking at management’s response to casual staff coming and outlining what their typical work pattern was like, how they had to save and squirrel away all this money at the end of the year to make it through from December to February when they could start teaching again.

Scott: The other area is our employment targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. That’s one area that marks the sector out from other employers. Speaking to fellow unionists in WA, there’s not many other agreements that put in employment targets for First Nations staff. Curtin previously had a target in its Enterprise Agreement. It had a Reconciliation Action Plan. This time around they tried to tell us that, ‘We don’t need any targets in the EA, this would just be something that would be worked out by the VC and Aboriginal staff’ and even suggested that it would be paternalistic to have a target in the agreement. That position has really shocked our members and the broader staff at Curtin. It jars so much because Curtin has traded on and promoted its corporate citizenship on this issue. Indeed, its latest strategic plan only has three main goals: people, planet and partnership. And partnership is all about engagement with First Nations peoples.

It’s an employment issue that has upset a lot of staff members at Curtin because they see the hypocrisy in management’s position in on the one hand saying they’re a great corporate employer and they have these wonderful liberal values on a whole range of things, but they want to maintain managerial prerogative on these issues. There’s a huge disconnect between what they’re saying in their glossy brochures, and what they’re proposing through the bargaining process. That one really stands out in terms of getting members attention.

 

One thing bargaining can do, if we think about it in a positive sense is achieve a better university. To finish off, what do you think needs to change in the university sector?

Francis: Personally, I think bargaining is a rare moment because of the way our industrial relations laws work, where staff really do have an ability to put pressure onto management to show their agency and to have a voice. While obviously this branch and every branch wants to achieve good clauses that give reasonable pay increases and better conditions to staff, I think that’s not enough. What we fundamentally need is a more democratic university, where the workers have much more say in the direction of the university and the university’s goals. While it is important that we get good outcomes, if we get those good outcomes but university workers are largely still passive, and they simply receive those outcomes from the union in a service model, that means that every bargaining round you’re starting from square one. The only way we’re going to make meaningful progress in this sector is by rank and file members participating and seeing that bargaining and union activism more generally are something they must do.

There were some times in 2020 when I did feel truly in despair at the direction of the sector particularly for young university workers, and the most powerful anti-depressant was activism, engaging, talking to colleagues, petitioning, speaking with journalists, attending protests, working with the branch, feeling like you meaningfully can do something in order to improve things. Not only does it benefit the broader community, because you do get those wins, but even individually it’s so important for people to be a part of something and to feel like they have an active voice. For anybody who has always thought about being more involved, I think there are benefits beyond just the pay packet and the conditions. In some ways, it’s kind of existential. It opens you up to a very different way of looking at the world, and the way you work so I couldn’t recommend more to anybody getting involved with their union.

 

What has frustrated about the bargaining process, and in broad terms, what would you like to see improve in the bargaining process? What would you like to be able to do in bargaining that we can’t currently do?

Ryan: [Bargaining is] stage managed theatre. We go through a [sequence] of presenting and questions. It would be nice if we could actually progress an issue a bit further. It does require both parties to become more involved. [The union is] asking for something a bit ambitious; we’re going to be the organisation that pushes the employers to go a bit further than they’re comfortable. What would have been really encouraging is if we’d seen management come back when we present one of our key clauses about improving things they know are issues—like workloads, casualisation—and we actually putting out workable clauses, instead of the answer being ‘No,’ it could be like ‘We understand what you’re trying to do here, but let us run the numbers, let’s come back to this.’

The one thing with our casual conversion clause is that we didn’t put a fixed number. We said we understand the number will be unique to the university, and there’s a process here. We’re not coming and asking for something which is excessive. But we ultimately would like there to be a number in the Agreement, and have a back and forth about that number. But so far, we’ve just had ‘No, we don’t support this.’ We go through that with a number of clauses, looking at them three or four times at the table, and each time we’ve started with a firm ‘No’ from them, we’ve argued with them and they’ve stopped at the point of them saying they’ll take it under advice and get back to [us]. If they’re willing to take action, we’d like to start that process rather than going through this drawn out process of them saying no and then having to argue and having to advance. It would depend greatly on the attitude of the bargaining parties at the table.

Scott: Where do you start? I’m incredibly dismayed by the whole industrial relations system. The idea that we can only take industrial action during the protected bargaining period, the way in which management here at Curtin have tried to interfere in that process, so not only are we limited, but management thinks it has a right to to stymy our internal process. It’s been shocking how much money has been spent on the other side of the table in terms of full-time secondments, to do work from there side, [and] on external lawyers over a period of time. When I came into this position [as branch president] there was a time release for Curtin branch president [of the union]. In the run up to bargaining, the university reneged on that, so I don’t have a time release more generally for my position. They’ve done everything they can to stop the process.

In terms of the wider industrial relations, the free rider aspect of enterprise bargaining: It’s great to get messages of support from fellow staff who say ‘I’m not a member, but I really like what you’re doing,’ but it is a little bit irritating sometimes, when you think how much time and effort you’re putting in and how much other members are putting in, when it will benefit all staff. I’ve talked to colleagues in Canada and elsewhere, and they’re just gobsmacked that sort of system could be in place. It’s strangely eye-opening for someone who knows all the factors at play in the industrial relations system, but to be part of it is sometimes like ‘Wow,’ they’ve systematically stacked the cards against [unions]. That is frustrating. Despite all that, I think we’re making huge progress, and I am hopeful that we’ll get a much better agreement than last time.

 

That speaks to what Francis was saying about membership mobilisation and getting people involved in the branches. You gave us an update on the latest on the industrial action as of the latest podcast, which discussed the absurd ruling from the FW Commission. You’ve said that’s been overturned. Can you tell us where you’re at with industrial action?

Scott: We were astounded that the Fair Work Commission would side with the employer in interfering with our internal processes. But it does reflect the way in which I think the Fair Work Commission has been stacked over time. We decided to appeal it. We believe we were right in terms of our appeal and it was great to see the full bench of the Fair Work Commission quash the earlier ruling and reinstate our PABO. Our balloting agent has been reinstated, our ten questions [concerning industrial action items] have been reinstated, and we’re heading into the balloting as we speak. We’re confident that we’ll get all proposed actions authorised.

That will give us the strategic flexibility to then think about when and what we do in terms of industrial action. It changed the dynamic when we went back to the bargaining table, after the FWC quashed the initial ruling, there was a palpable change of mood in the room, which was fantastic. Once we get the industrial action vote up, that will give us strength at the bargaining table. It will further underline to management that a large majority of staff and our membership are sick of the conditions and aren’t going to put up with things as normal, and we need to have a better agreement.

We’ve been fortunate to have a great team, and we laugh a lot. There’s been a lot put to us that we just laugh and laugh, it’s so inane, it’s so ridiculous. It’ll test you, and you’ll feel burnt out, but at times it’s the funniest times I’ve experienced in a sort of Catch-22 sense.

 

All participants would like to acknowledge that the sovereignty of the lands on which they work and live was never ceded. It is stolen Aboriginal land. Curtin University operates on the lands of the Wadjuk people of the Nyungar Nation, and the Wongutha people of the North-Eastern Goldfields. Monash University operates on the lands of the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people of the Kulin Nations.

The interview has been edited for length and readability. Danni and Scott R. would like to thank Francis, Ryan and Scott F. for their time.

Image: signs at a recent rally of casual university workers at Monash University

Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson is a casual academic, unionist and writer, published in Overland, MeMo Review, Arena and demos journal.

Danni McGrath

Danni McGrath is an artist, studio assistance, sessional teacher, member of the Monash Casuals Network and occasional writer who makes work about printing, labour and value.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.


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