From ‘Inclusion’ to ‘Solidarity’: Organised Labour and Academic Casualisation in Australia

This is the first full paper authored by the project team about our OLT project on STFs and the changing nature of academic work


In many parts of the world, academic casualisation has accompanied the emergence of mass higher education. Universities have become a key site for struggles against precarity, and the stance adopted by unions in tertiary education has become central. Research into union responses to casualisation emphasises the importance of a shift in strategy, in universities and elsewhere, from defensive inclusion of insecure workers to workplace solidarity focused on overcoming job insecurity. In Australian universities the majority of teaching is now delivered by casual academics, engaged on short-term hourly-paid contracts. The industry union has worked actively to regulate casualisation, organise casual workers and resource their voice and representation. Recently it has moved from simply seeking improved conditions for casual academics to pursuing conversion into a new type of secure employment. In 2012, in a path-breaking decision, the union decided to endorse workplace level bargaining for a new ‘scholarly teaching fellow’ classification, designed to provide job security and a career pathway for casual teaching academics. In seeking job security for teaching academics, the union has accepted the partial disaggregation of continuing academic work. The article explores how this move to a model founded on solidarity has affected union strategy and changed the nature of employment in Australian universities, assessing the extent to which it has successfully reduced precarity while avoiding the further fragmentation of academic work and careers.