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Who is The Fox?

Welcome to the second issue of The Fox, a new fortnightly newsletter written by and for casualised, unemployed, and precarious workers from the university sector and beyond! The Fox is a tool for a more connected, informed and powerful coalition of workers, ready to bite back when provoked. Touch one, touch all.

Casualised, Unemployed & Precarious University Workers (CUPUW, pronounced Kapow!) was formed this year. It builds on the work of casuals’ networks in various universities and the connections that we make every day at work, being 60-80% of the workforce in the sector.

CUPUW reflects a need to self-organise. Our working conditions demand it and our union, the NTEU, lacks the kinds of democratic practices and commitment to organising that we presently need. CUPUW also works closely with other rank and file union and activist groups—within and outside the university sector.

Please forward this newsletter to those who need to read it.

Do you have something to contribute or something you’d like us to talk about? Write to The Fox’s editorial team at



Migrant Workers Centre - Hesen Jeong

On Thursday the 24th of September, Hesen Jeong from the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) in Melbourne joined an open forum with CUPUW members. Hesen spoke about the history of the MWC, the particular exploitation migrant workers face, and how they are coping as the government denies them access to COVID-related economic welfare packages.

When asked what CUPUW members could offer migrant workers at this moment, Hesen noted the historically low rates of permanent visas being granted to migrant workers who then experience a state of being permanently temporary. She also pointed to articles like Labour minister Kristina Keneally’s piece for the Sydney Morning Herald in May, “Do we want migrants to return in the same numbers? The answer is no”, which pushes an anti-migrant, Australians-first line that must be countered within the union movement.  The combination of anti-migrant rhetoric and the lack of a social safety net for migrants has created a crisis of food insecurity, economic distress and an increase in racism fuelled attack.

Speaking specifically about migrant workers on student visas, Hesen noted that most are reticent to identify themselves as workers, making it hard to access and help international students though they are particularly ripe for exploitation.

As university workers we should be using our access to scholarly and media outlets to counter racist and anti-worker arguments and advocate loudly for migrant workers, including our students. A teach-in was one suggestion about the particular role we can play to help bring students to resources like the MWC as well as reaching out to migrant community centres to build our community ties. Hesen and CUPUW members both agreed that this conversation needs to keep going on as we develop strategies to work together on rights for migrant workers. A big thanks to Hesen Jeong!
Rosie Joy Barron

Cops off Campus: Stifling Dissent at Sydney University

Since August of this year, members of CUPUW have participated in a series of appropriately physically distanced and masked rallies at the University of Sydney to voice dissent at the Federal Government’s proposed reforms to the Higher Education sector and the managed decline of university education. As has been reported extensively in the media, the NSW police have been selectively targeting protests at Sydney University by exploiting the recently enacted Public Health Order (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement). Students and staff have been arrested and fined. Threatened with further restrictions on their movement by the courts, protesters have chosen to stay in lock-up overnight rather than sign these orders.

CUPUW demands the full public disclosure of those responsible for the NSW Police Force actions targeting protesters at the rallies, the students and staff of the university, during an otherwise normal semester of in-person classes. Following discussions with protestors, it seems clear that police have targeted students rather than union activists or university staff. It is our understanding that police are not able to enter university buildings. So, we urge protests to continue in otherwise unaffected face-to-face classrooms and offices in adherence to Public Health Orders and exemptions which currently apply to the university. We will continue to demand an investigation into the names and offices of those responsible for providing university security with resources to aid the police in detaining protestors and issuing fines.

CUPUW recognises that solidarity with students, full time academic and professional staff and all workers at the University of Sydney is necessary to fight back against local attacks on education and around the country and beyond. State-sponsored intimidation through the use of riot and mounted police are designed to shut down public debate and dissent. Heavy police response to protest is nothing new at the University of Sydney, as well as other university campuses; but, this recent intensification of policing is worrying as it seems calibrated to normalise attacks on a fundamental principle of democracy.

Donations from the public have poured in to pay the fines that protesters have received. At the time of writing the Student Representative Council’s Education Action Group has raised approximately $25,000 to support those targeted. It is worth noting the public, and the professoriate at the university are on the protestors’ side—even if they weren't on the front lines with them  this time. The important question of whether the money raised should be paid back to the state, or be put to better use is now up to the EAG and those involved in the protests. We cannot however, in our nostalgia for an idealised past, fail to acknowledge that our universities remain institutions of dispossession, efforts to decolonize higher education notwithstanding. The current struggles on campus invoke historical instances where student movements have faced state repression.

Universities must become places for debate, discussion and dissent. CUPUW supports the actions led by the students and calls on university staff and the public to do so.

We will not tolerate the loss of this space for dissent.

The Case Against Casual Employment 

From CUPUW members Natasha Heenan, Bernard Keo, & Lina Koleilat

The detrimental effects of casualisation on society have never been more obvious than during this pandemic. Yet employers, politicians and even some economists maintain that casual employment is an essential part of modern labour markets. The rise of casualisation during the 1980s coincided with the decline of organised labour and loss of workers’ bargaining power. Since then, casual work has remained a steady feature of a labour market increasingly characterised by other forms of precarious employment like contract and gig work, and the erosion of job security. Far from being attractive, casual work is inequitable, demoralising, and often harmful. Casual work persists at a time when the scales are tipped in favour of bosses precisely because it benefits them.

The most enduring myth about casual work is that it is appealing because of its flexibility and the wage ‘premium’ of 25%. Yet the average wage premium afforded to casual workers in selected occupations is around 4-5%, much lower than the 25% used to justify the lack of leave entitlements and job security that casuals ‘trade off’. Casual work may be acceptable in the short term for some, but at the macroeconomic level it lowers the share of national income in favour of capital. Employers truly benefit from flexibility of casual work.

Casual university workers like us can attest to the demoralising nature of insecure work. Underpayment, as demonstrated in recent reporting, is rampant in universities. Beyond wage theft, casual workers in higher education also navigate the extreme insecurity of sessional work, often having no income between semesters or taking two or three jobs outside of the sector to make ends meet. Casuals often receive contracts at the last minute, at times even weeks after the semester has started and classes have been delivered. Often casuals are not invited to meetings. They’re rarely consulted on changes to their work. Casuals have little representation in the upper echelons of university or union hierarchies. Management’s love ‘em and leave ‘em approach to casuals not only means that casuals’ connections to their colleagues and students are eroded. When casuals go, they take their institutional knowledge with them, threatening the provision of high quality education. 

Thousands of casuals were the first to lose their jobs in the COVID-19 crisis. Even before the pandemic, casualisation had led to declining quality in the provision of key public services such as aged-care and disability support. Efforts to prevent viral transmission are being undermined by worker precarity. Faced with a choice of going to work sick or being unable to put food on the table, casuals are obliged to choose the former. After decades of shifting the risks of doing business onto casual workers, the status of casuals as an expendable, quasi-reserve labour pool has come back to bite. A key strategy to combat this public health crisis is to work towards strike readiness and to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. Members of the United Workers Union who have walked off the job in laundries, warehouses, and distribution centres demonstrate that this is possible.

Some blithely claim that casual workers wouldn’t accept jobs if they didn’t want them. A decade of rising underemployment has made it easier for employers to offer low wages and limited security, and harder for workers to refuse them. Well before COVID-19, many people struggled to get by, with the rates of Newstart, disability support payments, and pension below the poverty line. Australia’s putative welfare system compels people to accept precarious work, almost entirely on employers’ terms. JobSeeker and JobKeeper offered people a taste of dignity, but the government has decided to hurl them back into poverty. 

It is stupid and reckless to suggest that COVID is a “once in a century event”. This pandemic is not the only catastrophe we have faced this year. Climate change means that extreme, economy shattering weather events are highly likely. Instability is unavoidably the norm. What is avoidable, however, is allowing people in our society to face future catastrophes without the safeguards of a secure job or a stable living income. 

COVID-19 has shown how dependent we are on one another, and that the precarity of some undermines the safety of all. Our future is highly uncertain, but if we are to survive this pandemic and what comes next, we need secure work and incomes for everyone.

No Cuts: A Nursery Rhyme

(after Sean Bonney)

for “university” say fuck the VC / for

“death by a thousand cuts” say fuck the VC / don’t say

“casualisation” don’t say “warm bodies” say fuck the VC

for “sandstone” say fuck the VC

                                                             for “international intake” for

“vested interests” for “$432 million war chest” say fuck the VC

don’t say “I am going down like a sunset” don’t say

“Zoom” don’t say “I am going to share my screen

with you now” say fuck the VC / for “piccolo expertise”

for “blue sky thinking” say fuck the VC

for “austerity moon” for “king tide” say fuck the VC

don’t say “course fees” don’t say “Liberal party”

say “this wellness program makes me sick”

don’t say “dean” don’t say “departmental head” say fuck the VC

don’t say “kombucha” say fuck the VC / for

“the megafires of capital” say fuck the VC / for

“aspirational” say fuck the VC

                                                         all other words are buried

beneath campus all our faculties are buried

deep beneath campus / don’t say “student numbers” say

fuck the VC / don’t say “happy new building” say fuck the VC

perhaps say “save education” but after that, immediately

after that say fuck the VC / for “hiring freeze” for

“JobKeeper” “JobSeeker” “JobMaker” say

fuck Tehan fuck Morrison fuck the government but also

fuck the VC / don’t say “here is my new normal”

say fuck the VC

                   say no cuts NO CUTS and then say fuck the VC

Submitted by an anonymous casual worker
Rosie Joy Barron

Next Meeting

CUPUW organising meeting
1 October 5PM

Join via this link (P/W: 710193)

Or join by phone:
    Dial (Australia): +61 3 7018 2005 or +61 2 8015 6011

CUPUW organises on stolen Indigenous lands across the continent. We acknowledge and pay our respects to Indigenous elders, past and present. We also acknowledge that these lands have always been places of learning, teaching and research. Sovereignty was never ceded.

Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.
Come to a meeting! Get in touch!


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Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers · 120 Clarendon Street · South Melbourne, VIC 3205 · Australia

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