Hundreds more jobs at risk at RMIT

Latest revelations continue horror week for the Australian sector

September 17, 2020

Job shedding at Australian universities has intensified, with losses at the nation’s second largest institution significantly higher than previously indicated.

The ABC has reported that Melbourne’s RMIT University is set to lose some 1,200 staff rather than the 355 voluntary redundancies confirmed last month. The broadcaster said another 345 forced redundancies were proposed and up to 600 casual and fixed-term staff would not have jobs next year.

The university disputed the reports, saying its proposal involved up to 250 additional jobs not counting casual positions. It said no final decisions would be made pending discussions with staff.

“RMIT is responding to an unprecedented situation, which has fundamentally changed our circumstances and operating environment,” a spokeswoman said. “The sheer scale of the challenges means that some job losses are inevitable. 

“Where possible we will seek to find redeployment opportunities for those whose roles are impacted by the current change proposals. We acknowledge this is an extremely challenging and uncertain time for our community and must reiterate that these decisions are not being taken lightly.” 

The news follows revelations that the Australian National University is seeking 215 redundancies on top of a reported 250 that have already been negotiated. UNSW Sydney has revealed that over half of the almost 500 job cuts it flagged in July will be forced redundancies.

Monash University is reportedly pressing ahead with 277 voluntary redundancies announced earlier this year. Macquarie University has initiated a voluntary redundancy scheme aimed at jettisoning an unspecified number of positions, as it eyes revenue losses of A$70 million (£39.5 million) this year, A$150 million next year and almost A$200 million in 2022.

Before the news emerged about the additional job losses at RMIT, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) had estimated a toll of some 11,000 permanent jobs across the sector – a tally thought to be dwarfed by the number of casual and fixed-term staff who have been discarded or not rehired.

The full-time losses include up to 500 positions at the University of Technology Sydney, 450 at the University of Melbourne, up to 430 at La Trobe University, 300 at Deakin University, 200 at the University of New England and 100-plus at Charles Sturt University. The University of Sydney, which has flagged an unspecified number of voluntary redundancies, has now started formal consultations on its plan.

Labor senator Kim Carr told a senate committee hearing that he anticipated 20,000 job losses across the sector by the end of the year.

Australia’s latest labour force figures show that the national unemployment rate decreased from 7.5 per cent in July to 6.8 per cent in August. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said 87,000 fewer people were unemployed in August than in July, almost two-thirds of them women.

However, university employees – and women, in particular – are thought to have fared worse than many Australians because of the severe impact of the pandemic on higher education and the government’s determination to deny the sector access to the JobKeeper employment subsidy scheme. “Thirty thousand people will be out of work because of that decision,” the NTEU said.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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