Academics in universities across Australia are stepping up industrial action in an effort to secure substantial wage rises.
Strikes have disrupted universities in New South Wales and Queensland and are expected to be held in the other states. Academics have warned that they will ban examinations and refuse to carry out administrative tasks unless their demands are met.
The National Tertiary Education Union has called for a 19 per cent pay increase, but only the University of Sydney has offered anything close.
Last month, Sydney agreed an average 14.7 per cent rise over three years. The deal included guarantees of no job losses, an inquiry into academic workloads and preservation of existing working conditions.
Staff at the University of New South Wales held a 24-hour strike in protest at an offer of 7 per cent. The NTEU estimated that 95 per cent of classes had to be cancelled.
At the University of Wollongong, academics stopped work for two days and warned of more industrial action to follow, while staff at the Australian National University threatened a week-long strike next month unless the university made an offer above the 5 per cent promised.
Despite the threats, the ANU has decided to give all staff an immediate 3 per cent pay rise outside the current negotiations.
In Brisbane, academics at the Queensland University of Technology, which has proposed a 5.5 per cent increase, began a series of rolling strikes this month. Staff at the University of Queensland walked off the job for a day over a 7.5 per cent offer and are preparing to take more action.
Vice-chancellors claim they cannot afford to meet the union's demands without slashing staff numbers.
After the NTEU won a 12 per cent wage increase for staff in 1997, universities were forced to lose more than 3,000 posts.
But NTEU general secretary Grahame McCulloch said the union's call for a three-year agreement gave the institutions scope to manage the wage rises as well as address the issues of job security and workloads.
"We think the time scale provides enough flexibility for agreements to be designed to meet each university's circumstances," Mr McCulloch said.
"Our members are facing an unstable, deregulated funding and industrial relations environment so we need three-year agreements to ensure some stability," he said.