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Who is The Fox?

Welcome to the sixth issue of The Fox, a 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. 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


On Bullying and Union Work

Bullying, harassment and discrimination—these are the poisoned arrows that when shot—create a toxic working and volunteering environment within a union. Whether you are an employee or an unpaid ‘volunteer’ (e.g. delegate), you have a right to work—voluntarily or paid—free of abuse from bosses, other delegates and yes even from union staff.  

At the 2020 meeting of the NTEU’s National Council, two separate motions condemning bullying were moved. One motion identified NTEU staff as the targets of bullying and harassment from members, observing that staff have the right to a workplace free of these behaviours. The other framed bullying as a consequence of “diversity of opinion” within the union and internal debate, insisting that diverse views of individuals ought to be respected. It also held that differences in opinion and debate ought to be dealt with internally, through existing union structures, and not in the public domain. 

As we would hope, there seemed to be little opposition to the premise of the first motion—that workers should not experience bullying at work. However, an amendment that sought to acknowledge a wider scope of bullying to include elected members of the NTEU, as well as staff, was proposed. This amendment acknowledged that “elected members are accountable to those they represent and that acting on this accountability may include questioning and criticising national policy and decisions that... may not be supported by members.” 

Tellingly, the amendment was voted down. Both original motions were carried. 

We say ‘tellingly’ because 2020 has seen an increase of allegations of bullying and harassment against rank and file activists who have questioned everything from the National Jobs Protection Framework to the tolerance of transphobia in our union. Elected members have represented the views of these activists and members when feeding into committees and councils—does the rejection of this amendment suggest that they too might be accused of bullying simply for fulfilling their duties?

We need to be able to condemn bullying in the workplace and in union spaces when we see it—and ensure that political debate is not shut down by accusations of bullying. So let’s clarify some basic definitions:

  • Bullying is when a person(s) or a group repeatedly acts unreasonably towards a worker (or volunteer). These acts present a risk to health and safety.

    • Examples of unreasonable behavior could be acting aggressively, teasing or practical jokes, excluding someone from workplace events, intimidation, sexual harassment, psychological harassment. Unreasonable behaviour is behaviour that would be deemed unreasonable by the average person. Not only are workers covered but the Fair Work Commission has ruled that volunteers are covered under anti-bullying legislation.

  • Discrimination happens when there is adverse action because of a persons’ characteristics like sex, age or religion (and political beliefs although only in a workplace context).


While bullying can occur between anyone, power and its unequal distribution cannot be ignored. An imbalance of power can be caused by union or academic hierarchies, broader systems of privilege and oppression, and access to resources. It is both difficult and unwise for me to bully my boss, for example, whose approval has a direct impact on my ability to do my job, or indeed my access to paid work. If this boss is intimidating, or reacts to critique with hostility, I might be reluctant to raise reasonable concerns. This is neither healthy nor fair, and it is certainly not conducive to a democratic workplace.

There is also a difference between being aggressive and responding to aggression (including passive-aggression). Unfortunately, the safest response is usually silent acceptance of mistreatment, which leaves the problem unchallenged. But you can only bite your tongue for so long. Sometimes you snap or cry, which enables you to be framed, cynically or defensively, as the bully. Other times, even if you speak perfectly calmly, you may be seen as speaking above your station, making you both aggressive and hubristic. This is convenient for those who have an interest in undermining what you say. 

Let’s consider what might happen if a member of our union were to experience bullying from staff or union officials and attempted to have this addressed through existing union structures. If they attempted to file a complaint against a staff member or union official, they would soon learn that the union has two policies relevant to their situation, with all roads leading to elected officials. Unfortunately, they might also find the culture described above, one in which officials close ranks in response to perceived threats. Doing so appears to protect the union hierarchy, which stratifies power and creates the perfect conditions for bullying to occur. 

We are also concerned here with officials’ liberal interpretation of what constitutes a ‘threat’. This year, there has been a marked increase in tone policing by the union for anything questioning the official National Executive line, and what seems to be a marked discomfort with the growth of autonomous and semi-autonomous groups comprising some union members. Rather than seeing such groups as a healthy sign of democracy, these groups seem to be perceived as a threat. Instead of engaging with the legitimate concerns raised by rank and file members, critique is dismissed as un-comradely and, in some cases, as a form of bullying—in other words, a threat. Given these tendencies, it is little wonder that internal debates spilled out into the public—arguably they’ve been pushed out.

Besides working through the unions’ formal complaint policy, which is rather thin, here are some helpful tips from the Australian Human Rights Commission on what to do if you feel bullied, harassed or discriminated against. If you feel physically unsafe due to bullying contact 000. But let’s face it - at some point we want our union to have robust grievance processes and procedures to deal with harassment, discrimination and bullying to ensure transparency and fairness based on natural justice and impartiality. CUPUW is committed to improving union spaces to make NTEU members feel included and safe in political debate and decision making. No union or democracy is perfect but we are committed to improving both at the NTEU.

Inferno: Marking Hell

Reports have emerged that fragments of a long-speculated but hitherto unknown Canto from Dante’s Inferno have recently been uncovered. Fitting between Canto XX (the diviners) and Canto XXI (the barrators), it reveals a Malebolge 4 ½, colloquially known as “Marking Hell”. The fragments were found, oddly enough, at a former tertiary education facility on Australia’s east coast (the antipodes).

Content scientists claim the abandoned fragments of the Canto, written in the 14th century, were discovered under a pile of papers that appear to be from an era when submissions were made on paper, and kept in piles under littered tables and left in cupboards, filled with the effects of long-since moved-on assessors of student work.

The essays, forgotten even by those who produced them, were discovered by casually employed quarantine-security-health officers during routine cleaning. They initially believed them to be dryly humorous sketches written by bored and out-of-work English tutors during the era of “on-campus” work-time and in offices that have not been available to markers for years. How Dante’s sketches made their way to Australia, some time in the 19th century, remains an object of speculation.

The legible fragments reproduced here, appear courtesy of translators Jean and Robert Hollander, who were reportedly horrified by the discovery but nevertheless more concerned about the possibility of Clive James translating them. Happily, having followed the directions of Minos’ tail, James has recently passed into the sixth Malebolge (the hypocrites), we can presume he may now have experienced the present ditch first hand.


Canto XX.2: Malebolge 4 ½ (Marking Hell) – fragments:

As we now had passed from the chasm bathed in tears

of anguish my master pointed beyond the spur.

Yet another ditch was there, much shallower than the others.

From within cries of “What time is it?’ could be heard.

Followed by multiple voices in pained screams to whom

I could not be sure. There was no sense in answering them.

“Time moves [illegible] in this place,’ my master stepped

carefully past one of them, whose desperate reach revealed

Fingers with eyes where their tips would have been.

In many of their faces the place for their vision had been darkened,

and what looked like toes [phalanges] protruded from their sockets.

So close, they thumbed through the pages under which they were buried.

‘MLA or Chicago style?’ cried one poor wretch, ‘run-on sentences!’ another.

High above a devil rained down an endless stream of papers.

‘These are the markers. They dreamt of the physical world from the virtual.

‘Now they drown in the tumultuous currents of A4 papers,

cutting and staining their blistered skin. Canvas is the demon flying overhead

A cruel reminder that the faster they work the deeper they’ll be buried.’

Image by morgan jones

Murdoch's 'Binding Protocols' 


Last week the Murdoch Branch of the NTEU voted to adopt a new set of “binding protocols” designed to regulate the behaviour of delegates and Branch Committee members. The anti-democratic character of this move has been well documented: it seeks to silence the public expression of debate, it takes a punitive approach to delegates and Committee members who dissent from leadership decisions, and it concentrates power in Branch Committees and Divisions, away from delegates and members. It is another blow to union democracy in a year that has already seen the concessionary and widely-opposed Jobs Protection Framework and a National Council dominated by union officials’ attempts to control the rank and file.

While the developments at Murdoch should trouble all unionists, they are especially problematic from the perspective of precarious worker organising. The protocols seek not only to discipline delegates–they also seem designed to rein in the proliferation of organising taking place through Branch-level casuals networks. The protocols propose to place “any sub-committee, advisory or advocacy group formed by members for union purposes” under the oversight of the Branch Committee. In doing so, they delimit what any such group may do, and in ways inconsistent with how most casuals networks operate.

Under the Murdoch protocols, a casuals network would be defined as an “unelected group of NTEU members” whose purpose is to “advise, recruit, or advocate within Union decision-making bodies on specific issues” and to “advocate generally in support of the Union’s policies, provided this is done in concert with the Branch President or Secretary”. While casuals networks usually do work within NTEU decision-making bodies to advise and advocate on issues related to casualisation, it is not the only thing they do, nor, arguably, the most pressing. Casuals networks have been documenting the impact of COVID on casualised and unemployed workers. They have been driving campaigns on issues that matter to casualised staff including class sizes, wage theft, and precarious worker rights and inclusion. And they have been at the forefront of recent efforts to re-centre organising as the primary means of building worker power and winning life-altering conditions in our industry.

This campaigning and organising work is driven not by the desire to advocate within NTEU decision-making bodies but to empower precarious workers to document, analyse, and transform our working conditions. It is not hard to imagine how the Murdoch protocols might be used to discipline a semi-autonomous casuals network engaged in this kind of work. By bringing the network under Branch Committee oversight, campaigns would be made subject to Branch Committee approval and evaluated against criteria for resourcing and priorities developed by the Division and National Offices. Campaigns that are deemed too militant or too risky would be shut down. Routine organising work like communicating with members would need Branch Committee approval before materials could be circulated. Resources would be denied to unapproved activities. Members would no longer own or drive campaigns and all organising work would need to be filtered through the gatekeeper facility of the paid Branch staff.

This is not hard to imagine because it is already happening to casuals networks in NTEU Branches all around the country–indeed, it is at least partly why some casuals networks have chosen to operate outside of NTEU structures and support. The Murdoch protocols are merely the first attempt to articulate and institutionalise these practices, and in this they are telling: the limited way that casuals networks–or any autonomous group of union members–are understood in these protocols reflects a centralised, top-down approach to campaigning and a near-total abandonment of organising, a form of union work which is by definition member-driven. It is for these reasons that any attempt to institutionalise such protocols must be vigorously opposed.

What’s the Deal With Voluntary Redundancies?


Reducing staff costs in universities has generally started with the cutting of casual budgets and non-renewal of fixed term contracts, followed by ‘voluntary’ and then ‘forced’ redundancies among full time staff. While the restructuring of some universities (such as The University of New South Wales) is well advanced, most of them are in the voluntary redundancy phase. Recently The University of Sydney has reported 501 requests for voluntary redundancy, The University of Melbourne received 399 last week. This is particularly odd when coupled with concurrent statements from Universities Australia chief, Catriona Jackson, to the effect that student numbers are expected to rise in 2021. In fact, enrolments for next year are already up by 37% in NSW and ACT. Why then, are so many so willing to jump ship?

Voluntary redundancy refers to an employee agreeing to terminate their employment with their employer in exchange for financial compensation. Compensation for voluntary redundancy is governed by the same rules that apply to forced redundancies. Redundancy packages are calculated by years of service. Basically, the number of weeks’ pay included in the package increases with the number of years of service—except for employees whose service goes beyond ten years (their redundancy pay drops). Generally casual service doesn't count towards the calculation, which is to say that employees are only paid out for the time that they’ve been in ‘ongoing’ employment. In addition to a certain number of weeks’ pay, redundancy packages include whatever entitlements the employees are owed (capped at 52 weeks).

Given that packages for university staff (especially senior academic staff) are substantial, some may wonder if voluntary redundancies are a bad thing. After all, casual staff receive neither pay-outs nor opportunities for redeployment—although they may be viewed as favourable internal candidates after displaced workers have been considered. 

Though paying packages may be expensive, voluntary redundancy is a useful tool for managers. Employers reserve the right to reject voluntary redundancy applications, which makes the supposedly passive process of receiving these applications far more selective than the word voluntary implies. Managers may pressure employees to request voluntary redundancy by implying that they will be forcibly made redundant anyway. Happily announcing that most redundancies in a workplace have been voluntary, rather than forced, smooths the rough edges of a restructure. It obscures coercive measures and contributes to a sort of collective alexithymia among the remaining ‘un-redundants’ who seem to experience a paralysing cocktail of anger, sadness, confusion, apathy and relief.

Of course, those who must say goodbye to colleagues, who are “moving on to pursue new opportunities outside of the university sector” (to borrow a recent, particularly cowardly managerial euphemism) have to consider what will happen next. Following years of austerity, few who work in the tertiary sector can believe that the work formerly performed by now redundant staff no longer exists. In addition to outsourcing, it is likely that managers will squeeze more work out of their remaining ‘un-redundants’ (including casuals—that perennially unquantified mass of ‘warm bodies’) by reclassifying teaching activities, breaking through workload caps, and increasing class sizes. Indeed, managers will squeeze and, as they squeeze harder, will continue to preach the incestuous, twinned gospels of austerity (once again) and the COVID-19 induced digital revolution. In a recession, austerity is at best bad policy. Describing a deadly, rampant, and ongoing global pandemic as an opportunity? Well, that’s simply psychotic.  

Event: CUPUW Melbourne Picnic

Saturday 28th of November @ 2PM
Fitzroy Gardens, East Melbourne (RSVP for exact location on the day)

CUPUW and friends would like to invite you to a picnic for all casualised, unemployed and precarious workers in the university sector, as well as our friends and comrades.

Please RSVP here to ensure we comply with COVID restrictions. Let us know if you can no longer come via Slack, social media or at Facebook event here.

Upcoming Events! Organising and Precarity: Your Rights in and Out of Work

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) & CUPUW present two upcoming events in Sydney and Melbourne.

The aim of these meetings/speak out events are to bring together casuals in higher education, unemployed workers, and students, to talk about the kind of tactics we're using to organise precarious higher education workers and unemployed workers. The meeting details are below and more details about guest speakers are coming soon so please spread the word!

Sydney: Thursday 3rd December @ 4pm - 5pm. Venue TBA but likely University of Sydney.

Melbourne: Monday 7th December @ 4pm - 5pm. Venue TBA but likely Argyle Square, Carlton.

Join the AUWU - it’s free!

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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