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Staff union wins dispute, 160 jobs remain on the line

Embattled Faulty of Medicine staff remain in management's crosshairs

The University of Sydney has suffered a major setback in its bid to relocate Faculty of Medicine staff from the Anderson Stuart Building after the Fair Work Commission ruled against the move. However, more than 100 staff jobs remain on the line after a sweep of new redundancy proposals.

The Commission said the University should have engaged in genuine consultation with staff, as required by its enterprise bargaining agreement.

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Faculty staff were told in January that wet laboratories within Anderson Stuart would be closed and staff moved to other sites on the basis of Work Health and Safety (WHS) risks.

Despite persistent requests by staff and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) for those risks to be disclosed, the Faculty withheld relevant WHS reports and continued WHS inspections.

A University spokesperson told Honi the reports compiled from WHS inspections of the building  are protected under legal privilege.

Faculty Management, headed by Executive Dean Robyn Ward, consulted senior research leaders in one-on-one meetings where staff were shown a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet outlining which wet laboratories had ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ WHS inspections.

Attempts at resolving the dispute collapsed after the NTEU unanimously voted to reject a conciliatory deal offered by Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and to instead take the dispute to the Commission, which ruled in NTEU’s favour last week.

President of the NTEU branch at Sydney University, Kurt Iveson, told Honi, “We should not have had to go all the way to arbitration at the Fair Work Commission to have these rights respected.” “it’s a poor reflection on FMH Dean Robyn Ward and former Provost Stephen Garton that we had to do so” said Iveson.

In light of the NTEU’s win, the University will begin another process of consultation with staff on the proposed changes.

The University has nevertheless moved forward with its Final Change Plan which was released in late September.

It is expected that up to 160 staff will be made redundant despite the creation of 200 new positions in the faculty and the Fair Work Commission’s decision on the case.

Those continuing staff who have been offered redundancy proposals but do not wish to take them up will embark on a process of redeployment through an Expression of Interest (EOI) process.

The reorganisation will see a shift in structure that is also expected to involve a decrease in staff salaries, with the new positions sitting at lower Higher Education Officer (HEO) award levels.

The Final Change Plan outlines that for research staff specifically, there remains a “level of uncertainty” surrounding the professional structure of the reconstructed faculty and therefore an inability to define the long term needs of a professional staff support team.

As a result, a number of the 200 new positions will be fixed contract positions rather than  continuing positions.

It is suggested that these fixed-term roles will ensure ‘business continuity’ throughout the transition period and help implement the ‘faculty strategy.’

Staff sources within the Anderson Stuart Building have told Honi that the process of reconstruction has left staff morale “extremely low.” They expect an imminent “potential exodus” of the faculty as staff consider their future in the 163-year-old faculty after facing months of poor treatment by the University.

“People with valuable skills, experience and knowledge are being lost from the faculty and the university, resulting in concerns for the ongoing operation of the faculty,” they said.

Staff also told Honi that despite extensive feedback on the limitations and risks of the restructure have made little difference to the proposal, which remains relatively unchanged.

“Vast amounts of genuine good faith effort in suggestions [from staff] have gone nowhere,” they said.

The NTEU will write to the Vice-Chancellor over the coming week. Negotiations are ongoing.

For now, the future of staff hangs in the balance.