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FASS casuals call for halt to proposed course cuts

Casual staff will be hard hit by the proposal to cut 30% of Arts courses

A still from a video explaining the letter.

More than 100 casual staff in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) have signed an open letter to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence and Arts Dean Annamarie Jagose calling for a halt to a proposed cut of 30% of Arts courses next semester. A video explaining the letter can be seen here.

FASS staff have been informed that almost a third of courses offered would have to be cut next semester to reduce the cost of casual staff.

The letter states that the proposed cuts would have a “devastating impact” on casual staff  “who do the bulk of teaching in FASS, often in difficult conditions and without full financial compensation.” 

The University has been inconsistent in its explanation of the proposed course cuts. 

Staff have been told that the cuts are related to the $470 million revenue shortfall the University estimates it will see this year. 

But a University spokeswoman told the Sydney Morning Herald that the cuts were unrelated to the coronavirus, and they were made to ensure that the faculty “operate sustainably in the medium to long term”. In the same statement, the spokeswoman stated that the number of courses to be cut as yet undecided.

The letter also outlines the harm proposed cuts would have for students.

“In FASS, we are responsible for coordinating units of study, delivering lectures and tutorials, marking students’ work, and guiding students individually in their university education.

“For the vast majority of students, their university experience is absolutely indissociable from their relation to casualised staff and to the roles they play as tutors, lecturers, and mentors.”

“Just this semester we have done crucial work helping the University transition to online delivery, putting in even more unpaid hours than usual and investing financially in the infrastructure needed to run online classes. 

“To find ourselves on the precipice of unemployment after performing this important but mostly unpaid work is profoundly disappointing.”

Casuals are amongst the hardest hit under the National Tertiary Education Union’s (NTEU) proposed National Job Protection Framework, announced last Wednesday. 

Under the Heads of Agreement the NTEU’s leadership negotiated with universities, casuals with a “reasonable expectation” of getting work would be protected. 

But as a statement from the UNSW Casuals Network notes, “casual workers are offered work informally, sporadically, and verbally, with contracts processed at the very last minute, and with little regularity in work,” meaning that “it seems unlikely that this clause will substantively protect casuals at UNSW who have already lost work.” 

The framework would also not protect casuals who lose work as a result of course cuts. 

University of Sydney staff are not entitled to the JobKeeper payments, after the government changed eligibility requirements.

The NTEU has called for a National Day of Action tomorrow for a government bailout of the higher education sector.

FASS casuals can sign the letter here, and permanent staff can sign a petition against the freeze on casual hires and contract renewals here.

Nina Dillon Britton is a signatory of the open letter.

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