As the sun set on the 7th day of strikes taken by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) it was still looking unclear as to when and if they’d get a result. But as we have seen in the following days since their last strike on campus, a result was handed down in the darkness of night, and a result the workers for UGL were looking for.
Keep in mind that the result is still only a principal agreement and is yet to materialise into a full-fledged contract, and any going back on their word would mean the workers will be back on the corner of Fred Schonell Drive, but it’s a step in the right direction to a fair deal for their work.
Something to also consider is the approach the university is taking when dishing out contracts, since almost all of the jobs undertaken for the university by outside companies are tendered, the risk taken by the ETU through striking and potentially losing their contract to another business who promises to do it cheaper and quicker, at the cost of workers wages and conditions is a real possibility. We have seen the university give contracts to businesses like Hansen Yuncken, a construction company notorious for cutting corners on safety. If UQ isn’t willing to hand out contracts to employers who pay fair wages, how can we trust them not to skimp on safety?
Through the early hours of the mornings, and into the afternoon, students from the UQ Union and Student Action stood by the striking workers every day, waving their flags and holding their signs, with the occasional yarn mixed in for good measure. Anna Redshaw who represents Student Action on the UQ Union Council was one of the many friendly faces to appear down with the UGL workers in solidarity with their efforts and had something to say in respects to the solidarity shown by Student Action during these times:
“Student Action is proud to have stood in solidarity with the UGL strikers from day one. They won their demands because they were determined to fight against the bosses and university administration, and not give in. We can all take inspiration from this in our own campaigns with student rights.”
Sam Adams, chair of the UQ Union council and organiser for the South East Queensland Union of Renters, was another of the students standing in solidarity with the ETU. Sam had this to say:
“The student union and the ETU have a common enemy in the university administration. The admin gives themselves huge bonuses while decimating teaching and maintenance staff working conditions, which in turn affects the quality of our education. Their fight is our fight.”
I have to agree with both Sam and Anna wholeheartedly, and particularly as it relates to the issue of our quality of education. At the end of the day the people who maintain the infrastructure that we use, and often take for granted on a day-to-day basis, are just as important as the teachers who provide the courses we fork out so much HECS out for, and with the agreement talks between the NTEU and university set to come to a head in the coming months, the winds of change for the workers among our UQ community are blowing in a direction not seen for many years.
Emily Searle, president of the UQ Union, is hopeful in this sense as well:
“The Union was proud to stand in solidarity with the workers and leadership from the Electrical Trades Union. It’s great for students to see workers sticking up for themselves and getting results. In an increasingly casualised workforce it’s more important than ever that students are aware of their rights and know when they’re being taken advantage of.”
Lastly, Tony Lathouras – a near 20-year member of the ETU and current delegate who has been instrumental in keeping the students informed and up to date in the progressions of the negotiations – had something more to say in respects to the efforts by students during the strikes:
“The lads and I would like to commend you all for your efforts throughout this campaign. It’s been a pleasure spending time with you guys, we really appreciate that you stood by us and gave us your support, and if given the opportunity we’ll do the same for you at your next fight.”
We all appreciate the work Tony and the rest of the ETU put into helping their workers in these times of uncertainty, and due to the nature of the current negotiations there is a real possibility they might just end back on the grass any day, but you can almost count on the students getting back down there with them and putting up a fight.
We may never know if the university administration was pressured into acting faster through the concerted efforts of those students striking alongside the the workers, but needless to say the solidarity alone provided much needed morale boosts to all those fighting for a fair go, and will maybe even go on to serve as a stepping stone for more industrial action to be taken in the near future, with other bodies at the university.