Letter to National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU)

Letter from Dr Julia Prendergast Chair: Australasian Association of Writing Programs—19 March 2020) to Alison Barnes, National President, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU)                                                        

Dear Alison.

I am the current Chair of the Executive Committee: Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP), the peak academic body representing the discipline of Creative Writing in Australasia. The AAWP was established in 1996 to advance teaching and research in writing in Australasia and has, throughout the years, supported staff and students in education, research and engagement. A high proportion of our membership has always consisted of sessional staff, and we have an ongoing concern for their rights and protections.

It was heart-warming, therefore, to see the initiative from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), earlier this week, offering fee relief for casual members in the face of Covid-19: fee suspension for casual members as well as new casual members. I sent this information to sessional colleagues and to our members and other interested parties via the AAWP website (News), as well as AAWP’s social media outlets. In many cases, sessional academics who were not already members, signed-up immediately.

The AAWP supports policy that leads to equitable protection for our, largely unprotected, sessional colleagues. To this end, the AAWP supports special paid leave for all university staff, including our sessional colleagues, for any Covid-19 related absence including, but not limited to, shutdowns, compulsory isolation or caring commitments.

The AAWP supports calls, by NTEU members, to Treasurer Frydenberg for a targeted stimulus package for tertiary sector workers.

We are inordinately concerned that sessional staff members may feel torn between self-care and duty of care, on the one hand, and earning an income in support of basic personal needs, including the needs of dependents, on the other. AAWP is invested in harnessing the wealth of experience and knowledge in our sessional workforce. Maintaining high ratios of teachers to students is a means of reassuring students by providing regular, interactive care and attention in the online environment. Sessional staff members are vital, here.

While we recognise that the transition to online delivery is an immediate priority, we urge universities to provide sessional staff members with satisfactory information about how the future of teaching is perceived, as we progress—as a matter of priority, we urge universities to communicate with sessional staff about their plans regarding the security of current contracts.

Go boldly. Go gently. In solidarity.

This is how I have been signing emails, this past fortnight.

Julia Prendergast.

Dr Julia Prendergast

Chair of the Executive Committee

Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP)

Senior Lecturer, Writing and Literature

Major Discipline Coordinator: Professional Writing and Editing

Swinburne University