Broad changes coming to address COVID-19 financial impact

No consensus reached on a viable option in employment agreements variation talks

Broad changes coming to address COVID-19 financial impact

The University of Wollongong (UOW) will commence a program of broad institutional change to address the financial impact of COVID-19 after management and unions were unable to reach consensus on a viable option to reduce costs and minimise job losses by temporarily varying current employment agreements.

The University’s Joint Consultative Committee (JCC)-comprised of management and both staff unions’ representatives-held a series of meetings after being asked by Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE to consider supporting the enterprise agreements variation offered to staff as ‘Option 1’ in a recent preference survey.

In a message to staff, Professor Wellings expressed his sincere disappointment at the outcome of the discussions and outlined the way forward.

“The JCC has met seven times since Friday 19 June, with UOW management providing several variants on Option 1 to address local union representatives’ feedback.

“In good faith, University management carefully considered the requests of unions, and offered potential solutions to issues raised, but ultimately these variations do not address the reality of the threats to UOWs ongoing sustainability.

“The University’s operations and staff cost more than $12M per week. For this reason, we cannot delay our decision making any longer. We have arrived now at a point where implementing Option 3 is the only way forward.

“I am deeply disappointed with this outcome as I had hoped to reach an alternative agreement that minimises job losses,” Professor Wellings said.

Without an agreed position supported by local unions, the University will not ask staff to vote on a formal proposal to vary existing enterprise agreements.

Should key positions put by unions change, the University remains willing and ready to continue to discuss and consult with both unions about strategies that make employment-related savings that preserve as many jobs as possible at the University.

Otherwise, changes will be made across the organisation to bring the University’s overall employee costs within the budget approved by the University Council for 2020, 2021 and 2022 while upholding current employment conditions. This is expected to involve about 200 more job losses than would have been required had the employment agreements variation offered as ‘Option 1’ been supported.

Returning UOW to a financially sustainable position will require a strategic reshaping of its workforce, organisation and operations. This will include reviewing course offerings, enhancing administrative and teaching efficiency, prioritising strong performance in research outcomes and citations, and focusing on internationally significant research.

“No doubt, reviewing our operations is going to be challenging but we will be guided by our commitment to ensuring a high quality learning experience for our students and our strategic goals to continue to deliver world-class research outcomes.

“We are determined to ensure the University will emerge in a more financially secure position, with a greater academic focus, more efficient structures and a stronger capacity to meet the needs of our communities,” Professor Wellings said.

The potential for this course of action was foreshadowed in the live webcast to all staff on 4 June, reiterated on 9 June prior to the survey opening and repeated again on 17 June when the survey results were released before the JCC discussions commenced.

The severity of COVID-19’s financial impact on UOW and the urgent need for savings-including employment-related savings-was first announced on 23 April following a delayed census date after which the significantly lower than expected Autumn Session student numbers were confirmed.

COVID-19 has left the University with a projected $90 million shortfall in its 2020 budget that is expected to worsen in future years, urgently requiring significant across-the-board savings.

The University will continue to keep staff regularly informed about the University’s financial position, and will consult with affected staff about significant workforce change.

Further announcements about specific organisational changes will be made in accordance with the obligations the University has to its staff through their employment arrnagements.

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