If you are a new casual member of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) who is fortunate enough to be onboarded in some fashion, one of the first bodies to which you will be referred or introduced is the NTEU National Tertiary Casuals Committee (NTCC). The NTCC was founded in 2018 by a resolution of the NTEU National Council (over some substantial opposition), with the idea that compelling national leadership to consult with casual members would improve consideration of casual issues within the NTEU.
Based on lengthy, good faith engagement with the NTCC and robust debate within CUPUW about the NTCC’s merits and failings, CUPUW has adopted the position that without substantial reforms to the NTCC’s form, function and powers — reforms that are not currently feasible for reasons outlined below — it is a mistake for casual members of the union to engage in the NTCC at this time. Rather, we invite any casual member of the union to consider instead:
1. Joining their local casuals network or starting a casuals network, which CUPUW will gladly help with
2. Organising their local work area (with or without union support)
3. Joining and attending CUPUW’s weekly organising meetings
4. Joining with us or with any other group of self-organising workers to reform our sector and/or our union in line with the principles of deep organising.
CUPUW takes this position on the basis that the NTCC is:
- Undemocratic: The NTCC’s membership is constituted by ‘delegates’ from each state/territory Division: one per 300 casual members or a delegate handpicked by the relevant Division Secretary. Its attendance has therefore usually been fewer than ten. Since national leadership treats the NTCC as the chief consultative body of casuals, its members are participating in a theatrical falsification of representation. Regardless of the character and politics of its members, the NTCC’s structure inculcates an elite, unaccountable model of decision-making wherein the pretence of authority is conferred on a practically arbitrary few. We reject this form of representation; it is both undemocratic and demobilising.
- Practically powerless: The NTCC’s decisions are not binding on the union or the leadership, and its members must seek permission simply to represent themselves at National Executive and National Council, where binding decisions are made. We reject the conferral of a purely symbolic authority on a body which ought to have the structure, resourcing and authority to organise and make decisions about casualised workers in our union and sector.
- Prone to abuse: On many occasions, the national leadership of the NTEU has invoked conversations with members of the NTCC as constituting ‘consultation’ with casuals in the union and even the broader university sector. We reject that this can or should constitute consultation.
- Poorly structured and resourced: The rights and responsibilities of NTCC members are unclear. There is no onboarding process, resourcing or compensation for members, and chairing duties are unset and rotate without system. There is no means by which information, strategies and motions discussed within the NTCC are made available or meaningful to members. More significantly, it is unclear by what process the NTCC could be granted more powers, or in fact be substantively reformed in any meaningful way. Due to this lack of clarity it is ultimately the support of national leadership (or a major groundswell of member activity) that would be required to make meaningful reforms to the NTCC, and thus far all attempts to reform the NTCC have been met with opposition from national leadership. We reject that it is beholden on the most precarious workers in our sector to expend significant energy persuading a small handful of leadership figures that their peak body in the union ought to be well defined, well resourced and politically empowered.
- Politically harmful: For all the reasons mentioned above, it is currently the case that the NTCC, the official peak body for casual representation within our union at a time when casualisation is destroying our sector, takes the shape of a poorly resourced, structurally dysfunctional, inward-facing reference group, shielded from reform and open to abuse. We affirm the need within our union for a body that encapsulates our most radical aspirations for decasualising our sector.
As it stands, CUPUW finds that the NTCC represents a misallocation of members’ efforts. The work of running the NTCC as a practically powerless, undemocratic, unrepresentative reference group for a few key figures in national leadership is not the work that our sector needs from its casualised, unemployed and precarious activists and organisers.
Until such time as the national leadership of the NTEU is supportive of the NTCC being transformed into a caucus — which is open to all, democratically and transparently run, self-led and self-governed, autonomous, well-resourced, and empowering to those who join — we urge casual members of the union to instead join with their local casuals networks, comrades and/or with us to organise rank-and-file workers.