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Library staff affected by redundancies and years of underpayment

In the same week that mass underpayment of library staff was exposed, 22 librarians have accepted redundancies.

It is expected that 22 University of Sydney library staff across site and academic services divisions will lose their jobs, in the same week that mass underpayment of library staff was exposed.

This follows staff expressions of interest in some of the 252 voluntary redundancies proposed at the end of 2020. 

A University spokesperson told Honi that technological advancements would streamline the work of the remaining librarians as online resources and self-service increasingly replace in-person support.

Students’ Representative Council President Swapnik Sanagavarapu told Honi that “While the introduction of new technologies has produced minor efficiency gains, there is an unquantifiable amount of institutional knowledge and expertise among librarians which keeps the library running smoothly.”

13 out of 68 positions will be lost in the Site Services division and 9 of 33 in Academic Services.

According to the Community and Public Sector Union, the staff reductions will mean that librarians won’t be able to provide substantial one-on-one assistance to undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students. Processes surrounding Unit of Study outlines and document delivery for academics will likely be slowed.

Anticipating a spike in workload for remaining staff, the CPSU has called for examination into which non-essential services might be reduced or removed to compensate for workload increases.

Librarian and CPSU spokesperson Grant Wheeler said that “[University management] want to keep their services and I understand that, but they want to keep the services after taking a chunk of our staff away. To us, that’s unworkable, it’s unhealthy, it’s unethical.”  

“Management is at perfect liberty to fail to implement any of the feedback they receive from the staff who do the work and understand the issues, nor act on any of the concerns raised by those staff.”

A University spokesperson told Honi that the voluntary redundancy program was initiated “to safeguard our financial position for the future,” and that they have received positive feedback on proposals to appoint three Student Experience advisors in the Site Services division and three roles in the Academic Services team “with a focus on online education.”

The CPSU and library staff submitted their feedback to the Draft Change Proposal yesterday.

Mass underpayment of library staff

The news of 22 redundancies comes days after an audit revealed wage theft at the university, which has been underpaying hundreds of library staff for at least six years.

The underpayment occurred due to the misclassification of day workers as shift workers, who were paid shift loading for after hours work rather than overtime pay.

Wheeler stated that “over a long period of time I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some, perhaps very many individuals will be owed in excess of $20,000 or more.”

The University has not yet determined the amount of underpayment but has indicated to staff that it will attempt to honour the owed money.

It is unclear whether remunerations will extend beyond the last six years. A spokesperson told Honi that the University will consider extending the period of the review.

“I fear that years of tighter budgets, constant staff churn, consistent loss of institutional knowledge, and rising workloads across the University may have significantly contributed to this library underpayment fiasco,” said Wheeler.

“For similar reasons we fear negative outcomes for students and researchers if the University fails to engage with CPSU NSW concerns around staff workloads in the current VR process.”

Sanagavarapu told Honi that “The SRC stands in solidarity with the professional staff adversely affected by the University’s continual restructure of the library department.”

“Ultimately, the real villain in this story is the model of higher education funding… We look forward to working with the CPSU going forward in this matter.”