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Libraries will see a cut in opening and staffing hours, proposal reveals

Staff will lose a minimum of two hours worth of overtime wages per day

A number of University of Sydney (USyd) libraries will see a decrease in opening and staffed hours according to a draft change proposal released by the University last month. 

Some of the lowest-paid library staff employed at Fisher, Sci-Tech and Law amongst others will lose up to two hours worth of wages if this change is to come to fruition. Currently, staff working these hours receive a 10% early afternoon loading and a 12.5% late afternoon loading.

The largest suggested staffing cut will come from the Law Library which will see Sunday staffing hours reduced from seven hours to four hours per day. This is a shift that currently provides time-and-a-half penalty rates for staff members.

The proposal is being framed as a way to provide ‘consistency of service’ and to make ‘efficient use of staff resources’ but many believe this proposal is an attempt by the senior leadership team to cut costs. 

The proposal also suggests that the change will provide more flexibility within staff rosters with ‘more staff able to request leave at any one time’. It proposes that staff will be offered ‘simpler rosters’ with ‘fewer shifts outside busier times.’

The maximum presumed average savings for the university if this change is to go ahead will be up to $310,000 per week. 

NTEU Vice President, Jen Harrison told Honi ‘Those 14% of students who use the current [after hours] services – including those 32 students at Cumberland who will be kicked out of the library each night – are being treated as if they don’t have the same rights and learning needs as their fellow students.’

The university has suggested that staffing hours will be compensated for students through an increase in the online Chat Now service that was introduced in 2016. ‘For clients, an extended Chat Now service means a broader range of clients can get assistance no matter where they are,’ the proposal reads. 

Some staff will also be offered the option to work from home in a five hour ‘Chat Now’ shift. 

The National Tertiary Education Union has raised concerns about these changes. 

“The proposed changes will be devastating for some staff. Management’s conservative estimates are that staff will lose on average more than $1,000 a year. This is a huge amount to take away from a modest income,” Harrison told Honi. 

The last five years have seen increasing restructures, archive culls and cuts to staffing hours across many Usyd libraries. 

In 2014, the NTEU and CPSU entered a formal dispute with the University after a revised change proposal saw 60% of staff members facing redundancy. 

The university’s proposal also saw the removal of collections from four libraries across campus, restricted access to undergraduates and an outsourcing of technical services. 

In the 2014 revised change proposal, 157 staff members were told they were made redundant. 

In 2017, a swift cull of over 1% of Fisher Library research materials saw thousands of books shredded and sent to landfill. In the 18 month period through which this decision was made by the university, materials were not donated to students. 

The University anticipates that the 2019 changes will be implemented on or around the start of Semester 1, 2020.