UoN Talks Fail. Jobs at Risk

End to University negotiations aimed at achieving savings.

Discussions with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) – underway since late June with a deadline of Monday 10 August – failed to reach agreement.

The University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinsky, told staff that salary-related measures were in disagreement.

The University started 2020 in a good financial position with no debt and strong student enrolment numbers, but was forecasting a $58 million reduction in revenue for 2020 and expected revenue loss to continue next year and beyond.

Staff were told the university must find $35 million in savings in 2021.

I genuinely believe we were in a position to reach an agreement with the CPSU,” Professor Zelinsky said. 

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement with the NTEU… Our goal was to delay pay increases and save around $12m to $15m, which would have equated to around 120 additional jobs that could have been protected, depending on the mix of academic, teaching, and professional staff.

We will now need to find $12-$15 million in further savings through measures within our existing Enterprise Agreements. The University will pursue these savings from restructuring, course reviews, and seeking other efficiencies across the institution. 

Among the savings measures are the consolidation of five faculties into three to reduce administrative overhead.

Existing faculties are the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment; the Faculty of Education and Arts; the Faculty of Business and Law; the Faculty of Science; and the Faculty of Health and Medicine. The naming and new make-up of the three groups will be determined in the coming months, with the change due to be completed by the end of the year.

In addition, a course optimisation program aims to reduce complexity and overlaps, with offer fewer, better-resourced courses, and programs that offer more student-focussed education.

Agreement had been reached within existing Enterprise Agreements for voluntary measures related to annual leave, long service leave, purchased leave and an early retirement scheme.

The University had also been seeking agreement on salary-related measures that would see the deferral of two scheduled 2% pay rises and annual pay increments until December 2021.

The early retirement scheme was proposed as an option for staff 60 years of age and above.

Universities Australia has predicted up to 30,000 positions will be lost in the next three years due to an expected $16 billion loss of revenue, mostly from high fee-paying international students.

Pending UoN lay-offs will add to losses of 450 full-time jobs at Melbourne University, 493 at the University of New South Wales, 277 at Monash University, 210 at the University of New England, more than 200 at Charles Sturt University, up to 20 percent of the workforce at Sydney’s Macquarie University.

Australian tertiary education is effectively in crisis.

Nationwide TAFE funding cuts, with outsourcing to private job trainers, many revealed as dubious, sees that sector in turmoil. Billions of dollars have been cut from universities, starting with Labor’s term in 2010-2013. The LNP coalition government continues funding starvation. In addition, it recently shocked the sector by doubling fees in some humanities disciplines and reducing others – resulting in overall government contributions falling from 58% to 52%.

And, revealed last week – perhaps inevitably – universities illegally underpaid casual workers totalling millions of dollars over the past decade.