Backbone of Our Movement: Diarmaid


Diarmaid, NTEU

How long have you been a union member?

6 years.

Why did you join the union?

As an immigrant, I could see how Australia had better working conditions in higher education compared to other countries I previously worked in. Better pay, more super contributions, long service leave, and other benefits. I recognised that this was the result of the work of my union, the NTEU.

Going back decades, the members had been pushing for better conditions, and now I had the chance to benefit from their victories. So I felt I needed to pay them back. Furthermore, I wanted to be able to pass those benefits onto the future workers in my sector. It’s our responsibility, I believe, to honour the struggle of those who came before us, and pass it on to those who will come after us. Unions are a way to achieve this.

What’s your best memory/story about being in the union movement?

No one moment stands out, but I enjoy all the little victories our union gets against employers. Especially when they are to protect cherished values I have as an academic. There has been two this year that I enjoyed.

UTS had to re-instate a lecturer who had been dismissed on the grounds of not publishing enough in the ‘right’ journals. The Fair Work Commission rightly reproached the University for being ‘obsessed’ with spurious ranking systems.

Likewise, a colleague at Murdoch University was facing adverse action for speaking to ABC’s Four Corners. The University tried to argue the NTEU member had damaged their reputation for speaking openly about alarming practices within the University. The University eventually withdrew legal proceedings after a successful NTEU campaign. Without the NTEU acting in our interests, our employers would have run roughshod over core principles that are essential to critical and free inquiry in the higher education sector.

What’s the most important issue facing the union movement today?

I think membership is the age-old issue that is still relevant today. Membership rates across the country are in long-term decline and the economy is based more and more on Union-adverse industries. Even in my sector, higher education, membership rates are nowhere as high as they should be. This is a big concern. It’s contributing to the overall decline in general workplace standards and broader economic struggles. A direct line can be drawn between declining wage rates, declining prospects of home ownership, and overall anxiety in society with union membership levels. Most of the strength and all of the positives that Unions can provide flow straight from strong membership rates. More members!

Why should people join their union?

In my sector at least, it’s a no brainer!

What’s to lose for higher education workers? The upsides are considerable: better bargaining power during enterprise bargaining means more of the things that make workplaces positive and enjoyable places to be. Plus, being a union member gets you access to all sorts of benefits (I can get access to not-for-profit private health insurance schemes, for instance). But, most of all, I think people should join for the betterment of workplace conditions for all. Not just themselves.