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University staff demand better conditions

Casual university employees will travel to Canberra in a bid to end higher education institutions’ reliance on an insecure workforce.

Workers will come from across Australia to meet with Education Minister Jason Clare on Wednesday, along with representatives from the National Tertiary Education Union.

Jennie Jeppesen, who is employed as a casual, said she struggles to afford basic necessities.

“My 13-year-old daughter cuts my hair because I cannot afford a hairdresser, I cut my son’s and my daughter’s hair,” she said.

“I have been employed in the university sector since 2012, and have been denied conversion to more secure work three times.”

Flinders University academic Toby Priest said he has not been able to turn his job into a continuing position, despite being employed by his university for almost two decades.

“The insecurity means I have to work more than full-time, in five different jobs, to ensure I have the savings in the possible event of losing work,” he said.

“This adds enormous stress to me and my family.”

The union’s national president Dr Alison Barnes said the government’s priority should be ensuring university workers have secure jobs.

More than two-thirds of the workforce – 166,000 people – are employed on a casual or short-term basis.

“Many have been victims of wage theft and are unfairly denied continuing employment,” Dr Barnes said.

“This robs them of the ability to pay bills, get a mortgage, take holidays and plan for their future.

“Some of their stories are harrowing. Having to make unimaginable decisions between caring for terminally ill parents and facing homelessness.”

Dr Barnes said the situation was unacceptable when universities were recording surpluses, and senior university staff raked in million-dollar salaries.

“Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Education Minister Jason Clare must help the sector recover not only from the pandemic but from a decade of destructive coalition policy and chronic underfunding of public higher education,” she said.

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