UON Staff Strike, VC Pay Nears $1 Million Despite $38M Deficit

NTEU protest, protester holding sign that reads "UON staff deserve better"

It’s been a big day at the University of Newcastle. As Peter Hyslop explains, the NTEU staff union went on strike, after Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky is reported to have received a 7% pay rise.

The long-running dispute between a staff union and university management has culminated today in a spectacular show of fireworks.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) held a well-attended protest in Newcastle today after negotiations over pay and conditions ground to a halt. The Fair Work Commission was last week enlisted to solve back-and-forth enterprise bargaining, which has now been running (albeit on and off) for almost two years. Staff with the union say the university is not doing enough to protect casuals from restructures, nor is it stopping unrealistic workloads for academics.

NTEU strike outside of NUspace

The NTEU strike outside of NUspace

The NTEU rejected a 13% pay rise offer in the latest agreement put to staff, up from 9.5% in the previous offer. That’s quite generous. But president of the Newcastle NTEU branch Terrence Summers told Yak in April that it’s other items in successive draft agreements which have caused concern.

“The changes that are proposed to…this enterprise agreement include enormous changes to academic workloads,” he said.

To top all that off, the University of Newcastle’s annual report for 2022 was released yesterday, revealing Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinksy’s annual pay had increased from $930,000 to $939,999, up from $860,000 to $869,999 in 2021.

An NTEU member holds the front page of the Newcastle Herald

An NTEU member holds the front page of the Newcastle Herald

In a statement, the university defended the Vice Chancellor’s hefty pay packet, stating that, “Professor Zelinsky’s salary was set at the mid-range of his peers.” Clearly members of the NTEU aren’t having a bar of that.

It’s because a near $38 million deficit was posted for UON in the last financial year, and it was used as evidence in communication to staff that higher pay rises might cause further financial risk to the institution.

This morning students woke up to an indexation of 7.1% on their HECS/HELP debts. If that figure sounds familiar, it’s because that’s also the percentage of the Vice Chancellor’s latest pay raise. When that year on year increase to the Vice Chancellor’s salary was then posted, it seemed bizarre that the ‘not enough to go around’ argument was being used at all.

So, what now? Expect more fireworks, I guess. This is not going to be an easy fight for either side, but they’ve had their heels dug in for a while now.

Feature Image by Ben Collison, Yak Writer & Photographer 

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