The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has taken the University of Sydney to Fair Work Australia over the decision to cut more than one hundred academic staff.
The University has been asked to stop the job cuts process until the case is heard. If the hearing is successful, the University of Sydney may have to restart the whole process of laying off staff. But if the Ombudsman sides with the University, the staff will have no further legal protection against being made redundant.
Fair Work Australia is an independent government body that resolves disputes between workers and their employers. The NTEU thinks the University acted unfairly by firing people based on their publication history over three years, when during this time the staff had no idea their performance would lead to being fired. They claim the University has essentially shifted the goal posts after the game.
As popular philosophy lecturer Adrian Heathcote told Lateline on Friday, “The offer was made on the assumption – or on the premise – that there was a failure to meet a certain publication requirement, a publication requirement that had never been set to any of us.”
At time of writing, academics expect to be informed of the termination of employment on Monday. This final round of staff cuts was selected by the deans of each faculty. Each dean was given a list of staff that hadn’t met the ‘four or more publications’ rule, and were able to select some of them to be saved from the process. Staff and students have questioned how useful these guidelines for saving staff actually are.
As student Eleanor Gordon-Smith told Lateline, “The deans were given certain criteria that they could use to exempt people from the culling process. Quality of teaching wasn’t one of them. Quantity was, but quality wasn’t.” Deputy Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton again defended the cuts on Lateline, “Our concern was not to lose some of our best minds,” he said. Mr Garton said the University had examined what it meant to be an academic, and settled upon “a criterion of, say, three publications over a three year period, which is roughly the academic board definition of what constitutes a research-active academic.”
Fair Work Australia is still hearing the NTEU case. The National Tertiary Education Union will be holding rallies against the job cuts for the foreseeable future until July 1, when the cuts are scheduled to come into effect.