While UTS staff were on strike on Wednesday, Simon Wade, the embattled Branch President of the staff union, fronted the Federal Court in the wake of his dismissal by UTS management two weeks ago.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) sought an injunction for Wade to be reinstated as a member of staff throughout the duration of a general protections action brought by the NTEU against the University. The Union alleges UTS breached general protections provisions in the Fair Work Act, which govern workplace rights.
Wade was suspended by University management in the midst of enterprise bargaining negotiations at the end of last year. Since then, the NTEU has maintained his suspension and eventual dismissal “arose as a result of [his]union activities”.
The Union has previously argued that Wade was consistently “targeted in his workplace”. His suspension followed a Fair Work Australia conciliation process in September last year that aimed to facilitate his engagement in the bargaining process.
But UTS management denies its actions against Wade were politically motivated. In an email to New Matilda, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Corporate Services Anne Dwyer said that there were “no grounds for these allegations”.
In general protections cases, a ‘reverse onus’ applies to the employer, meaning UTS must prove that it dismissed Wade for a reason other than his participation in union organising and negotiations.
In their initial submissions, Wade’s legal team had sought for him to be fully reinstated to his position as a paid general staff member. However, on Wednesday this demand was altered such that Wade’s reinstatement would be subject to his ongoing suspension, in what is likely an attempt to increase the probability that the injunction is granted.
The court was adjourned to next Tuesday to allow UTS’ legal representatives time to respond to the modified demand. The NTEU declined to comment on the day’s proceedings, in order not to prejudice the court.
As Wade’s day in court played out, staff picketed the entrances to UTS over stalled enterprise bargaining negotiations. The strike was the first at UTS since 2004, and follows similar industrial actions at Sydney University last year and UWS earlier this year.
The NTEU said the pickets had been relatively successful, telling NM that approximately 500 staff and students attended a rally at 11am centred around Wade’s dismissal.
UTS management downplayed the likely impact of the industrial action before Wednesday, but the NTEU said it believed that many staff and students had not entered the campus on the day.
The NTEU did not rule out possible future strike action.
“We expect that if we don’t have any progress in bargaining we will take future strike action,” acting Branch President Vince Caughley told NM.
The UTS strike comes amidst significant anger from staff unions and students following cuts to tertiary education and the deregulation of university fees in the recent Federal Budget.
Later in the day, the strike converged with a rally organised by the National Union of Students against the changes.
Several thousand students and staff participated in the march from UTS to Town Hall.
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