Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Campuses close as Australian lecturers protest labor laws

REUTERS , SYDNEY

A nationwide strike by 40,000 Australian university lecturers and staff closed 38 campuses yesterday in protest against planned labor laws linked to hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding.

University staff say the planned laws are aimed at reducing union influence on campus by forcing workers onto individual contracts and promoting casual staff, and would result in inferior working conditions and education.

"The government is forcing universities to take away the rights of university staff to collectively bargain and have freedom of association," said Sharan Burrow, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

In Sydney, staff and students from five universities staged picket lines outside campuses before marching to a city park for a mass rally.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson said the planned labor laws were not aimed at destroying union influence on campus, but at allowing staff the choice to enter individual work agreements.

"If not one single academic chooses to sign up ... the government will be happy so long as it has been offered to them," Nelson said.

University staff and students say Australia's conservative government is trying to blackmail universities by linking A$404 million (US$278 million) in funding to the planned new laws.

"They are blackmailing all the universities to introduce this repressive industrial relations regime," said Paddy Gibson, a third year student at Sydney University and member of the National Union of Students.

"Our universities are starved of public funding," he said.

University staff and students also object to what they say are government moves to force universities to provide more places for full-fee paying students and raise student fees.

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