Will our v-c continue resisting decades of social progress by refusing to give casual staff the sick leave they deserve?


Times Higher Education, 23 November, 2017. A contribution to the collective article ‘Tossing and turning: what keeps university staff awake’? Read the original here.

What keeps me awake at night is the thing that stops me getting to bed in the first place – work. Everyone knows that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get all those lectures and articles written, all those essays marked and all those papers reviewed.

But in my case, another reason I burn the midnight oil is that I have to spend so much of the day trying to defend what I see as core values of our profession. I work at the University of Sydney, a typical example of the kind of corporate institution that business and government want to see.

Academics’ typical preference for nuance mustn’t stop us from acknowledging the reality: working at such institutions often seems like a protracted war – sometimes hot, sometimes cold – between management and staff and students. I’ve reached the conclusion that doing our bit in this war is our key intellectual and political responsibility as academics – and that trade union activity is the only way to do so effectively.

Fortunately, once I finally turn in, I’m a good sleeper. But if I weren’t, there’d be plenty of scope to fret over what management might do next. Will they continue to empty out lecture theatres by putting teaching online? Will they raise the research “output” requirements again so that we academics are suddenly told we’re underperforming and deprived of the right to research? What essential aspect of our work will they next try to obstruct?

But what most threatens my sleep pattern is whether our vice-chancellor (salary package: A$1.4 million, about £815,000) is really going to keep on resisting decades of social progress by refusing to give our legion of casual staff the sick leave that they badly need and greatly deserve.

Casualisation is not a joke. Few of us here have forgotten the case of our casual colleague (and, in many cases, friend) for whom, last year, it all got too much, prompting him to take his own life.

Casuals experience the brunt of the managers’ university. But this is a university that would make everyone’s position casual if it could. It’s no overstatement to say that if you’re not losing sleep over this in one way or another, then you’re in trouble – whether you’re officially casual or not.

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