Disabled and Striking at USYD

Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff
3 min readMar 9


I have a disability that makes it difficult to stand on the pickets, but I am writing this today as a member of the NTEU in solidarity with the NTEU strike at the University of Sydney.

I think most people find union strikes by teachers and staff difficult to understand. I know that I do. I have been told the NTEU only represents a small number of the overall staff, so it’s paltry. And I have been told that the NTEU is led by left-wing radicals, so it’s paltry. So let me make my position very clear and highlight two points that will keep me striking:

  1. Negotiations: The University Leadership (VC and Provost) has never met with the NTEU to negotiate in-person after more than two years of bargaining. Never. The NTEU has been balanced and pushy, as a good union should be, and I support them now more than ever.
  2. 40–40–20: We will not. Never. Never. Ever. Negotiate away the defining element for many teachers' work plans, which is the 40% research, 40% teaching, and 20% service workloads model. We will not do it. And the NTEU is made up of more than 27,000 academics and staff. And most importantly, they negotiate on behalf of all staff, whether they belong to the Union or not.

I understand that University Leadership wants more teaching. More teaching. More teaching. I understand that they may think we are under-utilized or should have different priorities. And they are in the majority here; most people don’t realise the actual workload model is 100%, 100%, 50%. That we work a full-time job in research, a full-time job as teachers, and then 50% of our time on committees and in meetings. I understand that most University academics are not seen as hard workers by the public. But to actively build off this misrepresentation harms institutions more than people. It feeds cynicism and ultimate decline. The 250% model is closer to the reality than the academic who is scouring for work to do during the day and desperately needing direction to figure out how to find our way out of the office.

I love the University of Sydney

I love the University of Sydney. I personally think USYD is the best university in Australia, and a top university in the world. For 14 years, I have been a faithful student, casual worker, and permanent academic. I intend to continue being faithful. I like both VC Mark Scott and Provost and DVC Annamarie Jagose. I find them both stellar people and personable colleagues.

The current stalemate is beneath both of them. Someone, somewhere, sometime, made the ill-informed decision that it was not worth negotiating directly with the NTEU. That staying aloof was a better look, a better position, and a better outcome producer. They were upsettingly wrong. The path forward is to build up the staff, not to divide them. These are extraordinary people doing tremendous work who should all sit together in a room and manage a path forward.

I will be on the next picket line, disability and all. Until we all have come to an agreement.

Chris Pepin-Neff, PhD is an academic. This piece is independent and does not reflect the views of his employer.



Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, with a focus on LGBTQ politics, agenda setting, and policy advocacy. Pronouns (they/them). Opinions are mine.