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Union helps university managements reopen Australian campuses as COVID-19 resurges

Universities in Australia opened for face-to-face teaching six weeks ago despite COVID cases starting to arise again, fueled by the Omicron variants. Since then, cases have increased rapidly in schools and no doubt throughout universities, but many managements are covering up the infections.

An NTEU rally at Macquarie University late 2019 [WSWS Media]

While some universities have pursued a “blended” model, where students have an “option” to attend certain classes online, and some have allowed non-teaching staff to partially work from home, other managements have insisted on a full return to campus.

Many universities have stopped even reporting on infections among students and staff, in line with the profit-driven “live with the virus” program adopted by Liberal-National Coalition and Labor governments alike.

This has proceeded with the support of the trade unions covering university workers, including the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). At union meetings in February the reopening of campuses was presented as a fait accompli and the significant concerns of staff were overridden.

Growing numbers of university workers are disgusted with the union’s role, and the inadequate mitigation measures it has requested from the employers. There is concern about the rising dangers of infections, serious illness, death and debilitating Long COVID.

One worker commented on Facebook: “The NTEU is so pathetic it has to ‘push’ for face masks? Please look and see how ineffective they are! Can’t even get face masks without begging. A beheaded union.”

Another casual academic reported: “I’ve been asked to teach two f2f tutorials. I’m terrified of getting sick and being forced to work through it.”

A similar Twitter comment said: “I am being made to turn up to work, a university, whilst people are dying, 1000s getting covid, and lots of kids getting it too. Money before lives is what Australia is about these days.”

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