There was a Christmas tree and paraphernalia but the mood of those at a protest rally at the University of Wollongong on Tuesday was far from festive.
In fact most at the National Tertiary Education Union-organised rally were hoping to still have a job at the university come December.
Associate Professor Georgine Clarsen, the UOW branch president for NTEU said increasing casualisation was happening in a number of industries but it was having a ‘’severley negative’’ effect on the education system.
‘’Job security is a real concern for our many casual staff here at the university,’’ Ms Clarsen said.
‘’Not knowing if you have a job to come back to after Christmas is a stressful time for our staff as opposed to being a festive time with family and friends.
‘’Materially the increased casualisation of staff is also effecting how we teach students, who themselves are concerned about the prospects of finding jobs after uni.’’
The union pointed to UOW employment data which showed that 75 per cent of the university’s almost 6000 employees in the 2015/16 financial year were on either casual or fixed term contracts.
But a UOW spokesperson said there were only 453 full-time equivalent casual staff. As of January 2017, the total number of academic and professional services staff, excluding casuals, was 2241.
‘’Contract and casual staff are informed as early as practicable about renewals or future work opportunities,’’ the spokesperson said.
But Ms Clarsen said many staff were in fact afraid to speak out as they feared university management would not renew their employment contracts in 2018.
‘’That’s why so many staff haven’t come today and a lot who have are wearing Christmas masks, as you can see,’’ she said.
‘’They are doing that to symbolise that they could be out of a job by Christmas but also because they don’t want university management to see who they are.’’
Students also supported the union protest, which was part of a national ‘Pay More Get Less’ day of action across the country.
UOW undergraduate student Isabelle Liddy said action was needed to stop the Federal Government’s proposed university funding cuts and student fee hikes.
‘’Removing penalty rates is just one way the government is attacking students,’’ she said. ‘’Two out of three students are living below the poverty line.
‘’The housing crisis means one third of millennials still live at home and now we are seeing complete attacks to our education system, to teachers and students alike.
‘’The university is just becoming a degree factory. It’s being completely corporatised. We need to fight back.’’