Academic gowns and hi-vis workwear will be seen side by side at strike action next week.
Academics at the University of Wollongong are joining forces with BlueScope steelworkers to protest in Wollongong Mall on Tuesday at noon, as part of national union movement Change the Rules.
“If there is one thing that illustrates more than anything else the need to change the rules that govern workplaces in this country,” said South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, “it’s the sight of university professors and steelworkers side by side having the same struggle and the same challenges.
“That is wage justice and job security. They’re the two resounding things that stand out in our current industrial environment.”
University of Wollongong professors, associate professors, lecturers and tutors are striking as part of a campaign against the increasing trend of casualisation and short-term contracts at the university in place of secure permanent employment.
The steelworkers are engaged in their own campaign to retrieve some of the pay and conditions given up in 2015 as part of a deal to help BlueScope keep the gates at Port Kembla open.
One of the academics that will be on strike for 24 hours from 12.01am on Tuesday is Associate Professor Georgine Clarsen.
Her father and brother both worked at Port Kembla and it was her idea to bring the two groups of workers together.
READ MORE: Steelworkers walk over BlueScope pay offer
“Everyone in the Illawarra’s been touched by the steelworks and by the university,” Prof Clarsen said.
“The steelworks dated back to the early 20th century. The university really started to take off in the ’60s and ’70s. Both of them are the big employers.
“My dad worked at the steelworks so we were fed with BHP wages. In later years I came to work at the University of Wollongong, that gives me a perspective to see how much both of these places touch everyone.”
READ MORE: UOW staff strike over pay and insecure work
Steelworker Glenn Leak saw the union of BlueScope workers and academics as a continuation of the 2015 steel crisis, where the community banded together save the steelworks.
“In 2015 it was a community effort to save the steelworks,” Mr Leak said.
“I think it’s important we come together as a community again to help each other out in times of need. They helped us out, supported us through those hard times.”
That effort kept the steelworks alive.
“Now we’ve gone from the survive to the thrive stage,” Mr Leak said.
“The company has made $1.6 billion profit in the last 12 months. We feel we’ve contributed to that profit and we want a share of it.”