The Union for higher education staff spoke out yesterday at the Senate Inquiry into insecure work, saying that while exploitative and insecure employment models are spreading through the rest of the economy, higher education has been the stronghold of precarious employment for some time – but it’s now the main form of employment for teaching and research.
“It’s not just people delivering Big Macs on push bikes working without a safety net or a minimum wage – the Uber-isation of higher education has been growing for years, and it’s creating a dangerous race to the bottom,” National President of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Dr. Alison Barnes said.
“With only one in three university staff permanently employed, the Uber model of low pay, job insecurity and exploitation is well and truly entrenched in higher education,” she said.
“From people with PhDs to those working in administration services – too many higher ed staff are working as permanent casuals, subject to wage theft and underpayment, and with reduced pathways to secure work.
“Whether you are delivering a meal on a bike for Uber or have a PhD and are running a science prac with a PhD for Melbourne university, we are seeing a race to the bottom it is clear that the bottom is falling out of the Australian labour market.”
Higher education workers and married couple Elizabeth Adamczyk and Paul Morris told the inquiry about their experience of long-term insecure work at multiple universities and higher education providers.
“Insecure employment is not about employee ‘flexibility’ – it’s about juggling multiple jobs to pay the bills, it’s about not having sick leave when its desperately needed, it’s about having terrible Christmases because you don’t know if you will be working in the new year. It’s toxic and it erodes your confidence, in yourself and in others. I have the qualifications and experience – but the permanent work remains out of reach,” Elizabeth Adamczyk said.
“While Liz was completing her PhD, I was working three teaching jobs, all casual to meet the cost of living. When Liz was in hospital, working from her bed, I covered her classes, so we could continue to have an income. I have worked for years teaching at university, TAFE and in private education, juggling jobs, to pay the bills, and we still aren’t able to get permanent employment,” Paul Morris said.