UTS library casual staff were sacked en masse last month, with many losing their only source of income and unable to find jobs in the lead-up to the busiest time of the year.
In November, UTS library staff underwent a transition period which saw the alleged unfair dismissal of at least 30 staff members. All of the terminated staff were on 0-hour minimum contracts – meaning that the staff could be considered employees without working nor earning wages, at the discretion of UTS management.
Rather than renewing their casual contracts, UTS management enforced a compulsory interview selection process that current employees had to undertake if they wanted to be considered to have their contracts renewed. Most casual contracts expire on the 31st of December and the hiring period for most casual jobs at Christmas has closed.
One former UTS library staff member and current UTS student who asked to remain anonymous was notified of their termination during the exam period. They told Honi of the method by which management informed them of their job loss, “they called me up and told me that my job would no longer be available three weeks from now.”
These staff cuts are the first at UTS to have occurred while Christmas casual hiring periods have closed. This process was a “move in justifiably sacking casual staff at UTS”, they said.
According to Smith*, UTS management gave a justification for cutting staff as a result of a decrease in summer enrolments. This time last year there were approximately 700 enrolments, while the incoming stream of enrolments for this summer was marked at just over 100 in October.
Approximately 160 applicants were considered for the new Student Guide roles, from which only 2 internal staff were hired from this semester.
“A lot of the justification for why the majority of staff weren’t hired is because they didn’t ‘fulfill the criteria’ which is bullshit because they were already working there prior to being sacked”, Smith* stated.
“Having to fight to renew their contracts is deplorable,” they added.
Smith* spoke about the conditions that the terminated staff have to face, where they “are now in a position where they have to fight for other jobs” but “are fucked because no one else is hiring at the moment.”
“For this to happen just before Christmas, not having any shifts, not knowing what they’re going to do next- is an indictment on the casualisation crisis.”
One statement from a fired UTS library staffer read:
“Since the hub guides are essentially the face of the library, we have clients that have recognised us and on that basis we as hub guides were able to build rapport not only on an individual basis but as a whole community at UTS.
Leading up to the applications and interviews for 2023, while we were told it would be competitive, we were also encouraged to reapply and to make sure to save January for mandatory training. I had been working in this position for nearly a year now amongst my other colleagues and believe that I was qualified for this role especially since I have been selected to be in this position in the first place.
To see me and my other colleagues, who deservedly should’ve gotten through the applications and interviews, was quite disheartening to see as it wasn’t just 1 or 2 but nearly all of us didn’t get in. This should raise suspicions as guides who had been working there for several years have also been rejected despite their qualifications.
Apparently, upon questioning management about the decisions, I was told that we did not meet the selection criteria, nor did we write in depth. This is quite the contrary as we literally worked as hub guides and drew from our experiences working as one in the applications. We did not also meet the desired qualification/ experiences which were hospitality/retail which both have little to nothing associated with the role. But the focus of the role was customer services which I believed everyone has shown but that was not good enough apparently. This process was quite a frustrating one to witness as I believe the selection process was biased, even though they claimed it not to be. I believe I have met the selection criteria with my past experiences and skills working as a hub guide.”
Another statement read:
“It was quite disheartening to learn that my position at the Library was terminated before the date set in my contract and during the exam period. As a result, I am currently unemployed without a steady income, which has set me back financially. During my time there, I felt as if my performance was under regular surveillance and efficiency evaluation, which was a stressful environment to work under.”
In September, UTS staff held a two hour stop-work strike in their latest bid to escalate demands for better working conditions. The strike followed 12 months of negotiations where no change had been made by university management in response to the National Tertiary Education Union’s (NTEU) log of claims.
UTS Library management responded to the staffing cuts by stating that they were currently in the process of “recruiting casual staffing pools”. They explained that this approach would allow the University to “better train and support our casual staff”.
“The position descriptions for our casual roles have changed, so a competitive recruitment process for both pools was required to be undertaken. The existing casual contracts will conclude at the end of December 2022 and new casual contracts for successful candidates are now being put in place. No casual staff have had their contract shortened”, the statement read.
Both insecure employment and wage theft have been a profitable business model for public institutions in the tertiary sector. Last year, UTS reported total earnings of $1.19bn with an overall operating surplus of $122m.
USyd staff have also gone on two 48-hour strikes this year while fighting to stop overwork, wage theft and the preservation of the 40:40:20 research-teaching-administrative work model. UTS and USyd NTEU staff are still undergoing enterprise bargaining while pursuing a commitment to de-casualisation, a pay-rise in accordance with the rising cost-of-living, sick leave and superannuation entitlements for casual staff and job security.
Note: Smith*= this name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.