UofA staff cuts — bullying, coercion, and a gruesome ultimatum

Words by Nicholas Birchall

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Credit: https://twitter.com/HannahnagroM

Today, voting closed for Adelaide University Staff on a proposed 3.5% pay cut. Adelaide University purports this will save 200 of the 400 projected jobs losses “required” to cover the $60 million shortfall in the Uni’s budget.

How did we get to this point?

To keep things extremely brief, government university funding has been consistently gutted for decades. This forced Unis to look for external means of supplementing their operating costs. In recent years this has meant an increased reliance on corporate partnerships, and international students, who pay an exorbitant amount upfront to the university.

Then, COVID happened.

With thousands of university students stuck in their home countries, universities across Australia saw a nose-dive in their operating income. $78 million at UofA alone. To patch these holes? You guessed it, wage cuts, job losses, fee-hikes.

I’d like to focus on job losses and wage cuts. On the 22nd of July, an email from acting Vice-Chancellor Mike Brooks was circulated to Adelaide Uni staff. In this email, Brooks detailed how despite their “best efforts” the Uni would still see a $60 million shortfall in revenue.

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Pictured: Excerpts from Acting Vice-Chancellor Brooks’ email to staff

Brooks then detailed how these “required” savings were the equivalent of 400 full time jobs, however immediately afterwards, “reassured” staff that this would not be necessary if they committed to plans he then outlined below:

  • Removing annual leave loading
  • Reducing pay by 3.5% (at minimum)
  • Postponing scheduled pay rises of 1.5%
  • Adopting a general “purchasing leave” arrangement

Make no mistake, this was a threat from the university.

In a time where countless families are worried about their immediate future and job security, in a time where the worst global pandemic of the last 100 years is raging, in a time where what community needs the most is to band together and support each other, the University declared war on their staff. They threatened them with 400 sackings, threatened them with reduced salaries, threatened them with the very real possibility that they would no longer be able to financially support themselves or their families.

The decision to cut their wages and still lose 200 colleagues is not one made willingly. Staff have been bullied into this ultimatum, a decision that no one should ever have to make.

This is an unforgivable crime from a group of gutless cowards and bullies.

Sadly, as I’ve mentioned above, even with the concessions Uni staff have be coerced into making, 200 people will likely lose their job.

I cannot stress this enough. This is not merely a statistic or an abstract number. This is 200 individuals, all of whom will be put out of work. 200 families who will lose a source of income, during one of the darkest, and most uncertain times in Australia’s recent history. The human impact of this decision cannot be understated.

Don’t believe the lies the university PR and certain reprehensible student politicians are pushing. The University can weather this storm. They are choosing not to.

A quick look at the university’s financials paints an interesting picture. The university’s equity sits at $1.7Bn. While a large portion of this does not sit in liquid assets, a substantial chunk does. These are funds that can be effectively mobilised to cover operating costs where necessary. Coupled with this, an entity with $1.7Bn in equity has enormous borrowing power at a time of record-low interest rates. The Uni has an internal credit-rating and risk-grade comparable with a big 4 bank that issue billions of debt annually. I do not believe for a second that they are not able to borrow what is necessary, or liquidate enough existing assets to see this crisis through.

This is to make no mention of the plethora of upper-management who continue to rake in 6 or 7 figure sums, while they throw their colleagues to the wolves.

Disgraced former Vice-Chancellor Peter Rathjen sat on paid leave for 77 days. In this time he accrued approximately $250,000. To put that number into perspective, this is enough money to buy every single student at UofA a full-priced beer from Unibar, and then some. Rathjen “earnt” this money doing absolutely nothing.

I cannot stand idle while this disgusting, corporate beast is allowed to run rampant. This is an unprecedented attack on not only university staff, but our university community as a whole.

These decisions directly impact you as students. Cuts to academia and funding directly impact how effectively courses can be taught. This will impact your education.

Let us not forget how we got here. The gutting of government funding to universities precipitated this crisis. The system we were living was always fragile. Now that it’s been exposed, the woefully incompetent architects of this design expect staff and students to foot the bill. These are the same people that allowed the Royal Croquet Club to operate rent-free on our campus for two years. We can, and we should do better. Education is one of our fundamental rights, and we cannot allow it to be further stripped away or made attainable only for those who can pay.

If you’ve somehow made it to the end of this, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to stand with staff. They should not be isolated. We should not desert them. They’ve earned far more than that from us.

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Credit: https://www.facebook.com/NTEUfightback/

The views expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not reflect the views of On Dit.

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Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at onditmag@gmail.com

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