Melbourne University one step closer to strikes as industrial action vote green-lighted

The University of Melbourne is a step closer to staff strikes after the National Tertiary Education Union got the green light to ballot members about industrial action.

Union members will be asked to vote on eight forms of industrial action, including not doing any marking, not applying penalties to students who submit late work, work stoppages of up to 24 hours and indefinite stoppages.

University of Melbourne union members have been given the green light to vote on industrial action.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Potential bans on performing duties outside job descriptions and responding to phone calls or emails outside work hours will also be put to the vote.

David Gonzalez, acting president of the NTEU University of Melbourne branch, said the union had fast-tracked the process for industrial action because of widespread member dissatisfaction over pay and the university’s heavy reliance on casual staff.

“We typically wait for the proposal from the university to see where we’re at, and then we figure out what to do with industrial action,” he said. “But essentially, we’re going on two-and-a-half years since we’ve had a pay rise.

“And at the heart of our claims is the decasualisation clause, which is about getting the university to agree to some sort of target. We’ve said about 80 per cent of the positions at the university should be ongoing positions.”

The University of Melbourne said its objective was to “work constructively with the union to reach a fair agreement that recognises the value and contribution of all staff members and positions the university for success”.

Melbourne University is one of Australia’s wealthiest and highest-ranked universities, with $10.9 billion in assets and a $584 million surplus in 2021. Last year, it announced it had reached its fundraising target of $1 billion.

But it has been accused of widespread staff underpayment. According to the union’s calculations, the University of Melbourne owes $31.6 million in unpaid wages – the highest figure in the country.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker has described the university sector as one of the regulator’s top priorities. Fair Work has commenced legal action against the university, alleging it underpaid 14 staff by more than $150,000 and made false or misleading records.

The university and union have been negotiating over a new enterprise agreement for about six months. Staff pay rises, the length of the workplace agreement, and contracted employment targets have yet to be agreed.

“We’re pretty far apart on almost everything,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the union, which has more than 2000 members, had successfully applied to the Fair Work Commission for a protected action ballot order so it could act quickly when the university’s proposal comes out.

Any industrial action will require the approval of more than 50 per cent of members.

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