The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has launched a handbook informing casual teachers at the University of Wollongong of their rights at work.
NTEU NSW Secretary Genevieve Kelly has met with casual academics to explain the ‘Smart Casuals’ handbook, and to discuss what they feel needs to be addressed at UOW.
Ms Kelly said UOW has one of the highest rates of casual teaching in regional New South Wales.
“The majority of courses taught now in university are taught by casual staff and this has problems in terms of the educational experience,” she said.
“The majority of our teaching and courses is dependent on a very insecure workforce.”
Ms Kelly said as student numbers grow, the university has relied on a casual band of employees for core teaching roles.
“The university thinks it can transfer any risk of fluctuating student numbers on academic staff rather than carrying the risk itself,” she said.
Ms Kelly also said employing staff in core roles on a casual basis was affecting the quality of education provided to students.
“Where you previously might have had permanent academics available, you now have a casual workforce that is coming and going,” she said.
“There’s been very poor planning in how to replace the older generation of academics.”
A new University of Wollongong Enterprise Agreement was implemented last in December last year. Academic staff, including casuals, voted on the agreement, which was negotiated with NTEU representatives.
A spokesperson from the university said UOW employs casual academic staff in line with numbers employed across other Australian universities.
The university disagreed with the NTEU’s claim that the number of casual academics was too high.
“Under the Enterprise agreement it clearly states that ongoing (i.e. permanent) employment is the primary mode of employment at UOW,” the spokespoerson said.
“Casual academic staff make up a small proportion of the overall academic full-time equivalent workforce at UOW.”
While the NTEU said the core academic roles of faculties within the university should be held by teachers with permanent employment, Ms Kelly said casual teachers still play an important part in the education process.
“There’s always going to be a role for casual and short term numbers in the university buy not to the massive extent that’s happened, and also to have them responsible for the core teaching and programs is just what the problem is,” she said.
Ms Kelly says the casualisation of staff at universities was not restricted to the University of Wollongong.
“This is a really big issue for universities, it’s not just in Australia, it’s all over and it is something that we really need to address,” she said.
“For Wollongong to have a core population living in the region to have such a high rate of casuals, I think everyone at Wollongong University should be looking at this and asking questions as to why.”
Words: Simon Anderson
Pictures: Matt Baxter
Audio: Danielle Brown