At Sydney University the new academic year has been ushered in with 100 academic staff being given redundancy notices, and a further 64 given teaching-focused contracts, writes Alma Torlakovic in Socialist Alternative.
It is part of the Vice Chancellor’s plan to cut 7.5 percent of “salary-related expenditure” and $28 million in administration costs. This roughly equates to 340 job cuts overall. The result will be a massive increase in workload for those left with a job, and poorer quality in education and services for students.
“Poor” is the last cry anyone expected Sydney University to make, given its net operating margin of $113 million. But clearly this is not enough to cover the costs of mahogany, and expensive scotch served at the schmoozing functions put on by the VC. Together with his deputies, they are leeching $5 million out of the budget for their own salaries (not including numerous overseas trips, all expenses paid). Students, if you ever wondered what happens to your money once you sign on the dotted line and hand over your TFN, just remember – it isn’t necessarily for funding your education.
Sydney University is one of the richest universities in Australia, with a student fee income for 2011 of $792.3 million. Talk of it being in dire financial straits because of overdue infrastructure projects is untrue. It has been estimated that the cost of the redundancy packages would amount to approximately $40 million and management have reassured staff that they will have the opportunity for redeployment elsewhere in the university. So clearly it is not a question of lack of funds, rather, the cuts are an opportunity for the university to squeeze more out of its workforce.
Academic staff have been targeted based on retrospective criteria. They are “on the list” if they failed to produce enough publications over the last three years, standards which the VC and his deputies would not fulfil themselves. In many cases, absence from research due to teaching commitments or maternity leave have been overlooked, which sheds light on the shambolic nature of the consultation process. Targeting staff in this way is a calculated attempt by management to atomise individuals and make them feel like bludgers who are not pulling their weight.
Unsurprisingly, staff angered by the cuts have overwhelmingly rejected the proposals for change and have actively participated in mass meetings and rallies organised by the National Tertiary Education Union. At the first meeting called by the union, about 580 staff attended and vowed to mount a fight to stop the cuts. Since then there have been a series of meetings and two rallies. The last one, under the VC’s window, drew 700 angry staff and students.
Industrial action will be the only way we can win. We cannot rely on legal challenges or Fair Work Australia, and we must unite to fight this collectively. At the most recent rally, even the mention of the phrase “industrial action” was received with cheers from the crowd. It is clear there is support among workers and the wider community for a serious campaign to stop these cuts. We have what it takes to do it – now it’s a matter of mobilising this sentiment.
Alma is Chair of the NTEU Campaign Committee at Sydney